data network concept

Financial Data Brokers Have You Pegged

In the world of Big Data, do you fall into the industry’s Extra Needy category, or are you viewed as American Royalty? Perhaps Ethnic Second City Struggler or Small Town Shallow Pockets is a more apt description of you? Or how about Eager Senior Buyer or Tough Start: Young Single Parent?

While the media are focused on Facebook’s privacy breaches, a growing multibillion-dollar industry of data brokers is mining personal information online in order to sell our data dossiers to financial and other companies – sometimes to the detriment of our personal finances.

Big Data collection also can be innocuous, when it is used for marketing. In this form, it’s just the high-tech version of snail mail solicitations for credit cards, retail catalogs, or the services of a neighborhood real estate agent.

But Pam Dixon, the executive director of the World Privacy Forum, said evidence is growing that some consumers are being exploited by the unfettered sharing of personal data. Further, individuals generally do not have a legal right to see their dossiers, which are proprietary – “and we don’t know what they’re being used for,” she said.

In one egregious case, brokers sold data on an elderly veteran, who was then victimized by a scam that stripped him of his life savings. Some brokers compile lists of people living in trailer parks to sell to companies making “predatory offers to those in financial trouble,” Dixon testified before the Senate. …Learn More

squeeze

Book Review: the Middle-class Squeeze

book coverMarketplace recently estimated that a family’s common expenses have increased 30 percent since the 1990s. This was based on the inflation-adjusted prices for 11 necessities and small luxuries, from food, housing, college, and medical care to movie tickets and air fare.

On the income side of the household ledger, one well-known study estimates that the lifetime, inflation-adjusted income of a typical 60-year-old man today is substantially less than it was for a man who turned 60 back in 2002. Women, who have benefitted from getting more education, are earning more, but they started out at much lower pay levels and still trail men.

These trends – rising expenses and shrinking paychecks – get to the essence of the middle-class struggle described in Alissa Quart’s new book, “Squeezed: Why Our Families Can’t Afford America.”

Putting faces to the numbers, she had no trouble finding workers who feel they are losing their tentative grip on the middle class. Her focus is the 51 percent of U.S. households earning between $40,000 and $125,000.

That’s not to say that Americans’ quality of life hasn’t improved in some ways. Consider the dramatic increase in the square footage of U.S. houses over the past 30 years or the enormous strides in medical technology. In today’s strengthening economy, the Federal Reserve Board reports that a majority of adults say they are doing okay or even living comfortably, and they are feeling more optimistic. Yet this doesn’t entirely square with another of the Fed’s findings: a large majority of adults would not be able to cover an unexpected $400 expense without selling something or borrowing money. …Learn More

family

Mom-Dad Pay Gap Grows After First Child

Moms don’t need a research study to tell them that their earnings will never be high as dads’.

Nevertheless, a new study confirms this – and the pay gap may be larger than some suspect. In the two years surrounding the baby’s birth, mothers’ earnings fall by 12 percent, on average, as their careers stall or they take a hiatus from work to care for the child. Meanwhile, fathers’ careers clip along, with bonuses, pay raises, more hours, or better jobs bumping up their pay by 34 percent.

Mothers don’t get back to their pre-baby income levels until the child is 9 or 10 years old. The mom-dad wage gap will never be smaller than it was before the baby, because “the earnings of the male spouse do not undergo the initial shock” of childbirth, according to the U.S. Census Bureau researchers. They tracked wage changes starting in 1978, when baby boomer women were streaming into the labor force.

Their comparison of the husband-wife pay gap helps to overcome a big disadvantage of analyzing the popularized version of the gap: women earn 82 cents for every dollar a man earns. This headline statistic applies to all men and all women.

It’s neater to compare spouses, because both of them experience the baby bump at the same time, allowing estimates of the changes in each one’s earnings during the same time period and life circumstances. Just as important, husbands and wives usually bring to a marriage similar levels of education, the major determinant of earnings throughout workers’ lives.

The big issue in this study, however, is that data limitations prevented the researchers from controlling for the hours each spouse works after the baby’s birth. There are several potential explanations for mothers’ smaller paychecks but reduced hours are a major reason.

Maternity leave can be the start of several years of part-time employment at lower pay or even a hiatus from work for childrearing. If new mothers do return to the labor force fairly quickly, prioritizing the child can mean a job with less responsibility and lower pay than they earned in the past.

The increasing pay gap illuminates the financial sacrifices that moms make. Here are other findings in the study: …Learn More

Abstract financial concept illustration

Work v. Save Options Quantified

One of Americans’ biggest financial challenges is proper planning to ensure that their standard of living doesn’t drop after they retire and the regular paychecks stop.

A new study has practical implications for baby boomers in urgent need of improving their retirement finances: working a few additional years carries a lot more financial punch than a last-ditch effort to save some extra money in a 401(k).

This point is made dramatically in a simple example in the study: if a head of household who is 10 years away from retiring increases his 401(k) contributions from 6 percent to 7 percent of pay (with a 3 percent employer match) for the next decade, he would get no more benefit than if he instead had decided to work just one additional month before retiring.

Table showing how long to delay retirement in order to match a 1% increase in savings rate by age

Of course, this estimate should be taken only as illustrative.  To get their retirement finances into shape, many people should plan to work several more years than is typical today. Baby boomers tend to leave the labor force in their early- to mid-60s, even though more than four out of 10 boomers are on a path to a lower retirement standard of living. …Learn More

401k Savers Make Little Progress

Despite the mounting pressures on Americans of all ages to save for retirement, our saving habits haven’t changed in 10 years.

The combined employer and employee contributions to 401(k)s consistently hover around 10 percent of workers’ pay, according to “How America Saves 2018,” an annual report by Vanguard, which administers thousands of employer 401(k)s and other defined contribution plans.

Retirement account balances aren’t going up either. The typical participant’s 401(k) balance is no larger than it was in 2007, even though accounts grew 7 percent last year, to $26,000, thanks to a strong stock market. The balances, when adjusted for inflation, are slightly smaller.

The growing adoption of 401(k) plans that automatically enroll their workers is having both negative and positive influences on the account balances.  Employers tend to set employees’ contributions in these plans at a low 3 percent of their pay.  This has had a depressing effect on balances, but it has been offset somewhat in recent years by a modification to auto-enrollment plans: more employers are automatically increasing their workers’ contribution rates periodically.

Baby boomers with a few short years left to save are particularly under pressure to increase their savings. The typical boomer has accumulated only $71,000 in his current employer’s retirement account, according to Vanguard. Total account balances are generally larger, however – though still often inadequate – because many baby boomers have rolled over savings from past employer 401(k)s into their personal IRA accounts.

Overall, the situation for all workers hasn’t really changed and neither has Vanguard’s message to future retirees.

“Going forward, we need to reach for higher contribution rates for more individuals,” Jean Young, senior research analyst says in the company’s video above. …Learn More

uphill battle

Why Less-educated Men Retire Younger

retirement age by educationMen with high school diplomas are retiring around age 63 – three years before college-educated men.  The gap in their retirement ages used to be smaller.

The reasons behind the current disparity are explained in a review of research studies on the topic by Matt Rutledge, an economist with the Center for Retirement Research.  The trend for women is similar, though their story is complicated by a sharp rise in their participation in the labor force in recent decades.

Rutledge provides four reasons that less-educated men are still the lion’s share of early retirees:

Health. Older Americans are generally getting healthier and living longer – so why not wait to retire? Well, the health of less-educated people is poorer and has improved less over time than their more-educated coworkers. And health problems trump unemployment and other types of job losses as the single biggest reason for their early retirements – more so than for better-educated workers.

Labor Market.  Two aspects of the labor market are relevant to less-educated workers.  In the past, a large share of the retiree population could count on a guaranteed monthly income from a pension. Today, the workers who have a retirement savings plan have an incentive to delay retirement, because they will have to rely on the often inadequate and uncertain income that can be withdrawn from their 401(k)s. But less-educated workers haven’t been affected very much by the change, because they’ve never been big beneficiaries of employer retirement plans. In the 1990s, they could claim just 11 percent of the value in pensions, and today they hold 11 percent of the wealth in 401(k) plans.

A second change in the labor market is plummeting U.S. manufacturing employment since the 1980s, which reduced the physical demands of work.  But myriad working conditions remain relatively poor for less-educated workers and are still a powerful reason for them to retire. …Learn More

map of Washington DC

Meeting to Focus on Retirement Research

It’s not too late to sign up to attend the Retirement Research Consortium’s (RRC) 20th annual meeting in Washington on Thursday and Friday, August 2 and 3.

Its purpose is to provide RRC researchers from around the country an opportunity to present their working papers to colleagues, the press, policy experts, and financial professionals. The consortium’s studies are all funded by the U.S. Social Security Administration.

The researchers will cover a variety of financial and policy issues facing workers and retirees. Topics will include the gains in longevity when retirement is delayed, widows’ poverty, and an analysis of low-income workers’ earnings and retirement prospects.

Another paper explores the decline in the share of total U.S. earnings that are being covered by Social Security as increases at the top of the income scale outpace increases in the payroll tax cap.  The links between money management and cognitive impairment among the elderly will be explored by one panel.

The members of the research consortium are the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, which sponsors this blog; the University of Michigan Retirement Research Center; and the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Please join us!Learn More