Social Security and Two-Income Couples

The decades-long march of women into the nation’s workplaces may be the most enduring trend in the labor force – and a signature of American progress.

But it is also one more reason that Social Security benefits today replace a smaller share of the lifetime earnings of married couples than they did in the past, when far fewer women worked for pay.

Other reasons include the gradual increase in the age at which U.S. workers can claim their full retirement benefits, from age 65 for the oldest retirees to 67 for Generation X. Medicare premiums are also taking more out of the monthly Social Security check, and more retirees are being taxed on a portion of their benefits over time.

But for married couples, the sharp increase in the ranks of working wives has reduced the share of their joint earnings during their working years that is replaced by Social Security when they retire. For the typical couple born in the Depression, Social Security benefits cover 45 percent of their prior earnings, but that falls to 41 percent for baby boomer couples retiring today, according to new research by the Center for Retirement Research, which supports this blog.

These Social Security “replacement rates” – benefits as a percent of employment earnings – will continue to decline, to just 37 percent for Generation X couples born between 1966 and 1975. …Learn More

Photo of hands pushing against a wall

Underwater Homeowners Stuck in Place

Packing up and moving across state lines is a time-honored tradition in this country. Settlers headed to the Great Plains in the 1800s, retired snowbirds have flocked to the Sun Belt for decades, and roughnecks today are pouring into North Dakota for the shale-oil boom.

But moves like these became extremely difficult for an unprecedented number of Americans after U.S. house prices plunged, suddenly trapping millions of homeowners in houses that were worth less than what they owed on their mortgages.

The phenomenon, called “house lock,” was more pervasive during the recent housing market downturn, because the downturn was national in scope – prior housing declines had largely been isolated in regional markets.

Some 110,000 to 150,000 fewer Americans relocated each year from 2006 through 2009, reducing interstate migrations nationwide by 2 percent to 3 percent annually, according to the first study using data on individual house prices and mortgage balances to confirm that an increase in a state’s homeowners with “negative equity” affected migrations out of that state. …Learn More

Photo of lone rafter

Aging U.S. Workers: The Fittest Thrive

By the time people reach their mid-60s, two out of three have retired, either voluntarily or because they’re unable to keep or find a job. By age 75, nine out of ten are out of the labor force.

But the minority who do continue working aren’t just survivors – they’re thrivers. Think novelist Toni Morrison, rocker Neil Young, or the older person who still comes into your office every day.

The earnings of U.S. workers in their 60s and 70s are rising faster than earnings for people in their prime working years, according to a new study. Defying the stereotype that they’re marking time, today’s older workers are also just as productive as people in their prime working years.

Driving these trends is education: far more older Americans now have a college degree than they once did.

There’s a “perception that the aged are less healthy, less educated, less up-to-date in their knowledge and more fragile than the young,” but this does “not necessarily describe the people who choose or who are permitted to remain in paid employment at older ages,” Gary Burtless, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, concluded in his study.

The experience of age 60-plus workers is becoming increasingly important, because there are more of them in this country than there ever have been – a rising trend that will continue. …Learn More

Photo of ostrich head in ground

Are You An Ostrich About Investing?

As the stock market approached and then broke through the 15,000 mark, did you get a little obsessed with your 401(k) balance?

You would not be alone. A novel research project recently analyzed how often investors went online to check their 401(k) accounts and found that they did so more often when the Dow was rising. What could be more pleasant than watching your wealth grow?

The researchers quantified the emotional roller coaster that our investments can take us on by looking at log-on activity during 2007 and 2008 for 100,000 401(k)-style accounts at Vanguard Group Inc. To make sure they were properly measuring investor interest, the sample included only online customers who did not receive paper statements in the mail.

Their analysis gauged how responsive these investors were to stock market swings in either direction, based on the size of one-day market moves. If the Dow increased by 1 percent in a day, for example, the total number of log-ins rose nearly 2 percent. But if the Dow fell by 1 percent, then 2 percent fewer investors checked their accounts.

This human inclination to avoid the pain of losing money has been labeled the “ostrich effect,” because investors respond by putting their heads in the sand when the market is down. …Learn More

Layoffs After 50 Cause Severe Losses

For the average older worker who loses his job, his income a decade later is 15 percent lower than if he had escaped the layoff.

It gets worse: His pension wealth is worth 20 percent less, and his financial assets are 30 percent smaller.

The enormous financial hit delivered to older workers who experienced a layoff sometime during the 1990s was reported recently by researchers at the Center for Retirement Research, which supports this blog. First, the researchers pinpointed all workers in the data set who were over age 50 and lost a job between 1992 and 2000. They then examined their financial outcomes – earnings and assets – a decade later and compared them with outcomes for those who avoided layoffs during that time.

Unemployment rate for workers ages 55+If the financial fallout during the 1990s was that dramatic for unemployed older workers, it will be even worse for many of the 3.2 million jobless baby boomers at the peak of the Great Recession, the longest downturn in post-war U.S. history.

The Great Recession hit just as members of the biggest demographic bulge ever were either hitting retirement age or lining up on the runway. Record numbers of them sustained severe hits to their financial security, because the jobless rate for older workers reached record highs.

The research suggests that the recession’s effects may last into old age for many boomers. One key reason for their grim prospects is that older workers have more difficulty snaring new jobs than do young adults. Many boomers never found employment and are being forced to retire grudgingly, simply because they lack options. …Learn More

Family unpacking boxes

White-Black Wealth Gap Nearly Triples

Over the past 25 years, the difference in wealth held by white and black households in the United States has nearly tripled, to $236,500.

In December, Squared Away wrote about the difficulty that black families have in trying to accumulate wealth so they can pass it on to their children. New research out of Brandeis University’s Institute on Assets and Social Policy now finds that the gap between the median net worth for white and black households has widened to a chasm, as blacks have fallen farther behind.

The study also quantified the reasons for the widening gap and found that the difficulty of building up housing equity is the largest factor.

A house is usually the single largest asset owned by middle-class American families. But starkly different homeownership patterns between blacks and whites – ownership rates are lower for blacks, who also own their homes for fewer years than whites – accounted for 27 percent of the increase in the wealth gap.

Housing’s impact has been “incredibly large” and is the “key driver” of the growing black-white wealth gap, said Thomas Shapiro, the institute’s director. “It’s part of the disadvantage that keeps working its way through the life course” from one generation of a black family to the next, he said. …Learn More

Unemployment Lower for Older Workers

A few more jobs reports like February’s might put a dent in the nation’s still-high unemployment rate. The Bureau of Labor Statistics said U.S. employment surged by 236,000 last month, nudging the jobless rate down to 7.7 percent.

But a summary of unemployment rates for various age groups, recently published online by the Urban Institute, showed variations in the rate, by age. Rates have been consistently lower over the past decade for older workers than for those in their 20s, 30s, and 40s – even during and after the Great Recession.

In a still-sluggish economy, one might wonder: are older workers who remain on the job somehow depriving younger adults of work?

There is “absolutely no evidence of such ‘crowding out’, ” concluded the Center for Retirement Research, which supports this blog, in a recent study analyzing the labor market from 1977 through 2011. To rigorously test this relationship, the researchers tried several statistical variations – even looking at the older-younger worker dynamic during the Great Recession. They kept getting the same result: no crowding out.

In fact, they noted that their own evidence and research by others suggests the opposite. When older people have jobs, they add to consumer demand and fuel the economy. The authors conclude that “greater labor force participation of older workers is associated with greater youth employment and reduced youth unemployment.”Learn More

12345...