How Social Security Gets Fixed Matters

Line chart showing who's spending is reduced: workers or retirees? As more baby boomers retire, Social Security’s impending financial shortfall will become more pressing.

To restore solvency, Congress can either cut Social Security’s pension benefits or increase the payroll taxes deducted from workers’ pay.

Both policies would impact how much is available for households to spend. Researchers at the Center for Retirement Research find that the benefit reductions would have an appreciably larger annual impact on retirees than would the higher taxes on workers. But the taxes would be spread over a longer time period.

The new study looks at four specific policies, two that cut retirement benefits and two that raise taxes.  Each policy analyzed would equally benefit Social Security’s finances.

Gauging their separate effects required using a model to predict workers’ behavior. This was necessary because some workers might feel they should retire earlier if more taxes are being taken out of their paychecks. On the other hand, if their future pension benefits will be trimmed, they might decide to work a few more years to increase the size of their monthly checks.

One option for reducing Social Security payouts would be to delay the full retirement age (FRA) at which retirees are eligible to collect their “full” benefits. A second option is trimming Social Security’s annual cost-of-living (COLA) increases.

A two-year increase in the FRA, to 69, would reduce annual consumption in retirement by 5.6 percent for low-income, 4 percent for middle-income, and 2.2 percent for high-income retirees. …Learn More

champagne toast

Changes in Marriage Increase Class Divide

marriage rates by classIn the 1960s, half of all wives were housewives, and their husbands often earned enough money to support a family. Today, these traditional families are a rarity and two incomes have become essential to surviving economically.

A new joint report by the American Enterprise Institute and the Brookings Institution argues that poor and working-class families’ increasingly fragile family structure – despite the rise of dual-income spouses – often leaves them “doubly disadvantaged.” And lower marriage rates among poor and low-income couples help to explain why “America is increasingly divided by class,” write the authors, W. Bradford Wilcox, a professor and director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, and Wendy Wang, research director for the Institute for Family Studies.

They explain that higher rates of divorce and of couples cohabiting affected the poor’s marriage rate first and most harshly in the 1960s; working-class couples were next, though to a lesser extent in the 1980s. Marriage is far more common among the middle and upper classes.

The authors cite several economic and social forces behind these trends. The losses that less-educated, lower-income men “have experienced since the 1970s in job stability and real income have rendered them less ‘marriageable.’ ”   Stagnant or declining wages for middle- and working class couples impede their ability to afford a home, which is the most valuable financial asset most households own.  Couples lacking property may “have fewer reasons to avoid divorce.” …
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Boomers’ Mortgage Debt Predicament

You’re not going to like this, baby boomers.debt_home

You have more debt than the two generations born during the early Depression and World War II, much of it compliments of the mortgage bubble that financed your larger, more expensive houses. The housing bubble popped in 2008, but the mortgage on the new house or perhaps a second mortgage continues to plague many.

It should be no big surprise that a new study finds the “substantial” debts taken on specifically by those born in the late 1940s and early 1950s will gobble up more of their not-always plentiful retirement income.

“The evidence clearly shows that many Americans” on the cusp of retiring “continue to be burdened by debt and to be financially vulnerable,” the researchers said.

The lead researcher, Annamaria Lusardi at the George Washington University School of Business, is a national expert in financial literacy. As part of her study, she also wanted to understand how these early boomers manage their debts.  It turns out that people overburdened with debt more often have lower levels of financial literacy. However, debt is also an issue among older workers in poorer health or those who’ve seen their incomes decline, which is fairly common over 50. …Learn More

Tax Cuts, Medicare, and the Kids

deficit chartFederal Medicare spending will increase sharply as baby boomers, with their longer life spans than previous generations, sign up in droves. The Social Security Trust Fund also reports that its reserves will be depleted in 2034, requiring either benefit cuts or new revenues to replenish a program that keeps millions of older Americans either out of poverty or just above water.

These two programs currently account for about 40 percent of the federal government’s $3.7 trillion budget. Most people agree that we need to deal with the financial shortfalls in Medicare and Social Security. And there is precedent. Remember the bipartisan 1983 reform that put Social Security on firmer footing by increasing the program’s revenues and gradually raising its Full Retirement Age?

But there is growing concern among retirement experts and advocates for the elderly that the proposed $1.5 trillion in tax cuts will make future reductions to these critical retiree programs all the more likely in order to rein in growing federal budget deficits.

If cuts to Medicare and other social programs follow a tax cut, it would fly in the face of what regular folks said are their top priorities in a new Kaiser Family Foundation poll: Only a small minority of Americans support tax cuts if they involve cuts to Medicare, Social Security, and Medicaid. …Learn More

thanksgiving

Thankful for Squared Away Readers

Thank you for continuing to read and support Squared Away!

Our goal is to provide reliable information that is not influenced by the desire to sell a product or service, which we hope is a valuable service to you. And as a blog based at the Center for Retirement Research, we are particularly interested in covering what the current research (ours and many others’) can tell us about retirement, personal finance and the economic challenges that people face.

What could be better than a big turkey in the oven and family and friends all around?  Happy Thanksgiving to all.

To stay current on our blog, please join our free email list. You’ll receive just one email each week – with links to the two new posts for that week – when you sign up here.Learn More

Retirees say ‘Ugh’ to Medicare Shopping

medicare chartIn terms of popularity, reviewing Medicare plans during the open enrollment, going on now, ranks right up there with doing taxes.

Retirees on Medicare view healthcare as their most burdensome expense.  But they are less likely to comparison shop for Medicare plans than for their groceries and gas, even though plan shopping would probably save more money.

Deciding on a Medicare Advantage plan or deciding to switch to traditional Medicare, with or without a Medigap supplement, is “overwhelming, scary, and has consequences, so we put it off,” said Bart Astor, a spokesman for the insurer WellCare Health Plans, whose nationally representative survey quantified just how much retirees dread Medicare enrollment.

Selecting one path over another also necessitates predicting the impossible: their future health and how much coverage they will need.

Squared Away can’t predict your medical needs in 2018 either.  But perhaps one of these blogs will help you decide which path to take:

  • Free help navigating Medicare’s maze
  • 10 rules for Medicare Advantage shopping
  • Know the pitfalls of spotty hospital coverage in Advantage plans
  • Advantage premiums reflect physician networks
  • Fewer, clearer Medicare Part D choices
  • Avoid initial Medicare enrollment mistakes
  • Medicare primer: Advantage or Medigap?

If you haven’t shopped yet, why not get started on Black Friday?Learn More

To be Old is to be Happy

age and happiness chartAround age 58, people start getting happier. That’s what the research shows, and this blogger can attest to it.

In the new video displayed below, Rocio Calvo, a Boston College professor of social work, offers up theories for the happiness phenomenon – financial security is one. She also has some particularly striking “happiness statistics” on Hispanics and immigrants.

All over Boston College, academics are studying aging issues, which complement the financial and economic research turned out by the Center for Retirement Research, which sponsors this blog.   Calvo’s video is part of a series of videos by the multidisciplinary Institute on Aging at Boston College.

It’s interesting viewing for older people and their families, with apologies for the regression table (the significance of which quickly becomes clear if you stick with it).

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