Many women are fuzzy on how Social Security benefits for widows work and even more unclear about the program’s spousal benefits.
I know two of these women. Their situations nicely illustrate how this federal program promotes the well-being of older women and families.
One is my divorced aunt. She was surprised to learn, after my uncle died a few years ago, that her widow’s – or survivor’s – benefit, based on his decades of work as a housing developer, would be double the spousal benefit she’d received while he was alive. Divorced spouses are eligible for the same spousal and survivor’s benefits as still-married spouses, though only if the marriage lasted more than 10 years.
For a more complex experience involving Social Security’s child, spousal and survivor benefits, consider a friend of mine, who married an older man with whom she adopted two baby girls from China.
The couple divorced after 12 years, but John remained a loving older father. He showered his little girls with attention and, as they grew up, spoiled them with shopping excursions to the mall. But one of his best gifts came after he retired: Social Security benefits that provided financial security to his daughters and their mother.
John, like many older men, had difficulty finding steady work, but earlier in his career, he’d been a well-paid executive. On the strength of this earnings history, John signed up for his Social Security pension when he reached his full retirement age. His initial benefit was $2,209. In addition to this benefit, $828 per month went to each of his daughters, who were in elementary and middle school at the time.
Under Social Security’s rules, benefits go to children under age 16 when a parent is collecting a Social Security pension. This continues until the child reaches age 18 (or 19, if they’re still in high school). Each child’s benefit is precisely half of the parent’s pension, but John’s daughters received less than half because they bumped up against Social Security’s family maximum.
When John died a year ago, at age 73, his Social Security legacy continued. …Learn More
Now comes the toughest part of borrowing money for college: paying it back.
There is much for this year’s crop of graduates to learn. For example, the federal government gives you a reprieve after graduation, usually six months, before requiring you to start repaying your debts. But did you know that interest builds up during this “grace period”? Starting payments right away reduces how much you’ll have to pay back.
Making repayment mistakes or not having a plan can also be very costly. Click here for some tips to avoid these mistakes.
Here’s another issue: women borrow slightly more money for undergraduate degrees than do men but earn less after college and seem to have more difficulty paying back their loans.
In 2012, women borrowed $21,000 for an undergraduate degree, on average, compared with about $19,500 for men, according to a new study by the American Association of University Women (AAUW).
Men are able to pay their debt back faster too. During the first four years after graduation, men pay off 38 percent of their outstanding college debt. Women pay about 31 percent. Women graduates with student debt are also more likely to report more difficulty making their rent payments, AAWU’s survey found.
Many questions remain unanswered. What explains the differences? Also, the study doesn’t control for how much young adult men and women earn in their jobs. Nor does it sort out the implication of different payoffs for the different types of degrees that men and women choose. Careers in software engineering or nursing are more likely to justify hefty loans than degrees in film or women’s studies with uncertain career paths.
This study raises interesting issues, which future research will hopefully address.
In the meantime, women, it’s something to think about. Learn More
In the 19th and early 20th centuries, it was not unusual for older Americans to live with their adult children and grandchildren. But more seniors could afford to live on their own after passage of Social Security and then Medicare.
By the 1990s, fewer than 10 percent of people over age 65 lived with relatives, usually offspring. This number has crept back up to around 12 percent in recent years, according to an analysis by the Center for Retirement Research.
Economic disadvantage is the common thread among older people living in these multigenerational households, a new study finds. This held true whether the seniors moved in with their adult children and grandchildren or the offspring moved into their parents’ homes.
“Experiencing economic distress increased the odds of a senior forming a multigenerational household,” concluded researchers from Arizona State University and George Mason University.
Here are their main findings, based on an analysis of U.S. Census data for more than 49,000 people who were 65 or older between 1996 and 2008: …Learn More
Wolf pups are born in late spring and early summer in Denali National Park in Alaska.
No better time than retirement to take in our national parks at the leisurely pace they deserve.
At age 62, Americans can purchase a $10 park pass that is a life-time ticket to the magnificence of Glacier National Park, bison calves grazing with their mothers at Yellowstone, or peregrine falcons nesting at Acadia. But get the pass soon, though, because AARP reports the price will increase to $80.
Many people don’t learn the pass exists until they visit a national park where a ranger might or might not offer one. The passes, which are issued by the National Park Service, include free access to the holder, a spouse and others riding in their car. The pass sometimes includes discounts of 50 percent at camping facilities.
It’s possible to purchase the life passes online for $20. The Park Service advises travelers planning a trip to contact a park in advance to make sure the $10 passes are available for purchase at that specific location.
While it’s generally not wise to claim your Social Security at 62, it’d be silly not to take advantage of this federal benefit.Learn More
As the post-recession job market continues to improve, so has young adults’ optimism about their future opportunities, a Federal Reserve Board survey shows.
What’s poignant about this youthful optimism is that a changing labor market is making it increasingly difficult for young adults to get their careers off to the right start.
Surely, they sense this. Nearly two-thirds of adults between ages 18 and 30 told the Federal Reserve in a 2015 survey featured in a recent webinar that their schedules in “permanent” jobs were changing daily, weekly, or monthly. They strongly prefer future job stability over higher pay, despite the trendy flexibility of the “gig” economy, Uber driving, and freelancing.
“Permanent employment is not the same as stable employment,” Amy Blair, the Aspen Institute research director for the economic opportunities program, said during the webinar. “Without a stable floor, it’s difficult for a person to invest in himself or herself to build a career.”
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has identified 30 jobs it predicts will have the fastest growth, generating 5 million jobs by 2024. Most of the top 10 are characterized by part-time, low-paying, or seasonal work that can make it difficult to put together a full-time schedule, Blair said. Many are the types of jobs that also lack health benefits, 401(k)s, and paid-time off.
It’s now a given that more people in their 60s and 70s are choosing to keep working.
But a related trend rumbling beneath the surface isn’t so well-known: the share of working older people with full-time jobs has increased sharply – to almost 61 percent in 2016 from 40 percent in 1995 – as part-time work has become less popular.
The majority of older Americans are retired. But among those who do work, the move from part-time to full-time is “a major shift” in work schedules, concluded the Brookings Institution’s Barry Bosworth and Gary Burtless and George Washington University’s Ken Zhang in a report last year. This is one aspect of the broader trend of rising labor force participation for the nation’s older workers.
Burtless said in an email that the likely reason for the shift toward full-time employment is that more of the growing number of people who are working in their 60s and 70s are simply staying put in full-time career jobs.
Not surprisingly, much more income for the entire U.S. population over 65 comes from work. In 1990, employment earnings made up just 18 percent of their income from all sources. By 2012, that had almost doubled to 33 percent, according to the Brookings report.
Fueling the increase in full-time work are changes to the U.S. retirement system, as well as an increasingly healthy older population: …Learn More
Medical bills are leaving “a lasting imprint on families’ balance sheets,” JP Morgan Chase concludes from its recent analysis of the anonymous checking and credit card account activity of some 250,000 bank customers.
With little available cash on hand, 53 percent of these families prepare to pay large, one-time medical expenses by waiting for an uptick in their income. Nevertheless, a year after the bill is paid, they are still struggling to patch the hole blown in their household budgets, according to the report, “Coping with Costs: Big Data on Expense Volatility and Medical Payments.”
The 2013-2015 account data show that family incomes tend to be 4 percent higher, on average, in the month a medical bill is paid. This doesn’t mean that people suddenly become Uber drivers or work more overtime hours. What is probably going on, the bank said, is that people “have delayed either receipt of medical treatment or payment of their medical bill until they were able to pay” – when the extra income arrives.
Tax refunds are one clear source of this income for paying large one-time medical bills. These payments were the most frequent around tax time, JP Morgan’s customer data show. But the $163 average increase in monthly income, mostly from tax returns, was small relative to the average $2,000 medical bill.
The damage done to family finances was apparent even a year after such bills were paid. Credit card balances, which had been reduced prior to paying the medical bill, rose for at least a year following a payment. Meanwhile, spending on non-medical purchases, as well as the amount of cash on hand, decline in the aftermath as the families struggle to repair their household finances.
This dry but compelling report is a window into the Herculean feat of paying medical bills for some families. It helps to explain why two out of three Republicans and Democrats in a Kaiser Family Foundation poll said that lowering their health care costs should be a top priority for any reform.