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Behavior

The Aging Mind and Money

As we age, the things we forget are at first laughed off as “senior moments.” But when forgetting to send a birthday card becomes forgetting to pay the mortgage, the natural cognitive decline that accompanies aging becomes a serious financial issue.

With Americans living longer and an estimated 10,000 baby boomers turning 65 every day, a spate of fresh research has examined how and whether older brains can handle the challenges of modern financial life. But what the researchers have found out so far about the aging mind and money is somewhat of a mixed bag.

First, the bad news. Diminished cognition is an increasingly important concern in the financial arena, because the choices faced by retirees are getting ever more complex. One recent survey of people either experiencing cognitive decline themselves or observing it in a family member pinpointed the kinds of financial decisions that older people find difficult.

Among those surveyed, 41 percent said they or their family member forgot to pay their bills and 14 percent paid the same bill twice, according to the National Endowment for Financial Education and Harris Interactive. More than one-third had trouble with simple math or made rash purchases.

Retirees today face bigger financial challenges than that if they have to juggle their 401(k) investments and withdrawals. This is a change from the days when an employer simply issued a check every month from the defined-benefit pension plan, said Laura Bos, AARP’s acting vice president of financial education and outreach. …Learn More

Money Culture

Amid Recovery, Part-Time Jobs Still High

One segment of the U.S. labor force sheds light on the continuing struggle to find work: part-time employees who want a full-time job but can’t find one.

The U.S. unemployment rate has drifted down during the economic recovery. But the number of people the Department of Labor calls “involuntary part-time” roughly doubled during the recession to 8 million and still remains stuck at this much higher level.

Millions of Americans work part-time because they want to, but this involuntary part-time workforce is one more gauge of the slack labor market and lingering pain three years after the Great Recession officially ended. The Labor Department counts part-timers as involuntary if they can’t find a full-time job or if they work part-time for economic reasons, say a construction worker who doesn’t have enough projects to keep busy. …Learn More

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Research

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

On the Web

Readers Call Gen-X to Action

A recent blog article, “Retirement Tougher for Boomer Children,” did not elicit much sympathy for Generation X.

Many readers who commented expressed a sentiment something like this: Yes, things are tougher for young adults. So deal with it.

Members of Generation X, as well as Millennials, are largely on their own with their 401(k)s, in contrast to their parents and grandparents who may’ve had a guaranteed pension at work. But the evidence indicates young adults are not preparing for retirement: well over half of 30- and 40-somethings are on financial path to a lower standard of living once they retire, according to an analysis cited in the article.

They need to find “the discipline to save for retirement through all the means available,” said a Squared Away reader named Paul. …Learn More

Money Culture

Earnings Growth: Better at the Top

U.S. inequality can be measured two ways – by wealth or by earnings. Either way, most working Americans are losing out.

It’s the 1920s again for the richest 1 percent of Americans, and a recent analysis of the wealth gap illustrates why they’re able to live like the fictional Jay Gatsby, portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio in the new movie, “The Great Gatsby.”

The value of their wealth rises and falls with the stock market. But since the 1960s, they have consistently held 33 percent to 39 percent of the wealth owned by all Americans, including their stock, mansions, commercial real estate, and businesses, according to economist Edward Wolff at New York University. In 2010, the last year examined by Wolff, the richest 1 percent’s share was 35 percent – that was before the Dow flew past 15,000.

The U.S. wealth gap is enormous, partly because most Americans have little wealth to speak of. Most people instead gauge their financial well-being by the size of their paychecks, and income inequality is rising sharply.

Between 1993 and 2011, the earnings of the top 1 percent of U.S. earners grew by nearly 58 percent, after adjusting for inflation. Earnings include salaries, bonuses, stock options, dividends, and capital gains on stock portfolios. That far outpaced the 6 percent rise for the rest of U.S. workers during the same 18-year period, according to a new analysis by economist Emmanuel Saez at the University of California, Berkeley. …Learn More

Lab worker

Field Work

How Good Is Your 401(k)?

When Sanofi froze its defined benefit pension plan last year, the top brass wanted to make sure its 401(k) was seen as a worthy replacement by the company’s 24,000 U.S. employees and retirees.

Sanofi has succeeded, judging by Plan Sponsor magazine’s designation of the U.S. division of the French pharmaceutical giant as 2013 “Plan Sponsor of the Year.”

In corporate America, 401(k) plans are now the norm: in 2012, only 11 of Fortune magazine’s 100 largest companies still offered a traditional defined benefit pension, according to the consulting firm Towers Watson. But Sanofi U.S. had strong motivation for designing a 401(k) that is generous compared with typical 401(k)s.

The company has “highly technical, highly specialized, highly skilled [employees] that we have to recruit for and retain,” said Richard Johnson, senior director of benefits. “We wanted to ensure our employees had adequate retirement income.”

Squared Away recently interviewed Sanofi executives about their plan’s details, shown below, which readers can compare with 401(k) plans in their own workplaces. We hope you’ll post a comment on Facebook and let us know how, or whether, yours stacks up.

Here how Sanofi compares with other 401(k)s:

Learn More

Behavior

Retirement Countdown: Sheila Downsizes

Sheila Taymore could not afford the $2,200 mortgage and home equity loan payments, the enormous heating bills, and the repairs – so many repairs – on the home she’d owned for decades.

Sheila Taymore, 60, of Salem, Mass.

But selling it was emotional: she and her first husband had raised two sons in that house in the seaside town of Swampscott, north of Boston. Her decision to move was triggered by a recent divorce and came about two years after the death of her mother.

“I walked around and cried and said, ‘Who cares about this house?’ I make all this money, and all my money was going towards my house,” said Taymore, a Comcast Cable salesperson – last year was her best year ever.

She is like millions of U.S. baby boomers struggling, often imperfectly, to prepare financially for their imminent retirement. Wall Street may tout investment savvy as critical to ensuring a comfortable old age, but less lofty decisions can be more helpful to those with too little savings and too few working years left to make it up.

Taymore is also planning to delay her retirement to age 70. That will give her a larger monthly check from Social Security and fewer years of retirement to pay for. That was an easy call, she said, because “I just love my job.”Learn More

Money Culture

Jobless Boomers: How They Survive

Squared Away wrote about three unemployed baby boomers on Tuesday – an arts administrator, a corporate executive, and a social-services professional – who are having to scrounge for income to sustain themselves.

They are among the more than 1.5 million baby boomers caught in that painful limbo between a long and successful career and retirement – very possibly by default. All three want to get back into the labor force but may be forced to retire, because it’s more difficult for them to find employment than it is for younger workers.

While nearly half of unemployed adults between the ages of 25 and 49 were able to find work within seven months during and after the Great Recession, it took more than nine months for half of those over 50 to find a job, according to the Urban Institute, a Washington think tank. Many boomers may never find a job and will eventually retire.

“It’s different than being 35 or 45 and out of work,” said Kevin Milligan, an economics professor at the University of British Columbia. “We don’t necessarily expect these [older] people to go back to work.”

Milligan’s research last year determined that two-thirds or more of jobless Americans between ages 55 and 65 rely on their spouses for income. With only one spouse working, this creates hardships. These older households suddenly are able to save less in their 401(k)s. Milligan found that smaller numbers of boomers are also tapping their employer pensions or Social Security retirement benefits. …Learn More

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