November 8, 2018
A Proposal to Reduce Widows’ Poverty
A dramatic decline in widow’s poverty over a quarter century has been a positive outcome of more women going to college and moving into the labor force.
Yet 15 percent of widows are still poor – three times the poverty rate for married women.
A new study by the Center for Retirement Research takes a fresh look at Social Security’s widow benefits and finds that increasing them “could be a well-targeted way” to further reduce poverty.
Widows are vulnerable to being poor for several reasons. The main reason is that the income coming into a household declines when the husband dies. The number of Social Security checks drops from two to one, and any employer pension the husband received is reduced, or even eliminated if the couple didn’t opt for the pension’s joint-and-survivor annuity.
While one person can live more cheaply than two, the drop in income for new widows often isn’t accompanied by a commensurate drop in expenses.
Another issue begins to develop as much as 10 years before a husband dies. Prior to his death, his declining health may increase the couple’s medical expenses and reduce his ability to work, depleting the couple’s – and ultimately the widow’s – resources.
The irony today for wives who worked is that their decades in the labor force generally improve their financial prospects when they become widowed. Yet, under Social Security’s longstanding design, they receive less generous benefits than housewives – relative to the household’s benefits prior to the husband’s death. …Learn More
October 30, 2018
Retire in Boston or in Naples, Florida?
My husband is newly retired, and we’ve spent hours talking about where we might want to live after I retire in a few years. Our imagined scenarios are always changing.
But I’m clear on one thing: I do not want to buy a house in Naples, Florida, where a couple we know did recently. No offense to Naples, which has lots to recommend it – no shoveling! But the typical resident is 65 years old. In fact, Naples is older than the state of Florida, where retirement communities are so pervasive that they distinguish between the “young-old” (ages 60-75) and the “old-old” (over 75).
Boston, where my husband and I live now, couldn’t be more different. It is swarming with college students and young people, including his two sons and daughter-in-law. Boston’s young people work in rapidly changing industries like high-tech or environmental engineering, and I like it that way. Boston’s median age is 32 – half of Naples.
As I get closer to retiring and am faced with change, I think to myself, “Who wants to live in the midst of a bunch of old people like me?”
But that’s precisely what many retirees do. There are many examples of cities that have moved dramatically in the direction of one or the other extremes – Boston or Naples; Madison, Wisconsin, or Scottsdale, Arizona. The Wall Street Journal reported that new retirement communities are popping up in places that weren’t traditional resting places for snowbirds: retired baby boomers’ net migration to the Appalachian region where Georgia, North Carolina, and Tennessee converge has quadrupled since 2011.
This age segregation is a relatively new area of interest to demographers. Almost 60 percent of the neighborhoods and other subdivisions within U.S. counties have moderate or high levels of segregation, which is similar in degree to the level of segregation between the U.S. Hispanic and white populations, Richelle Winkler found in a 2013 study of federal Census data.
Age segregation also occurs in rural areas, as younger people leave for jobs and older people move in. In some rural parts of the Great Plains, Winkler writes, there are two times more seniors than young adults. …Learn More
June 14, 2018
Health in Old Age: the Great Unknown
This cartoon, by Vancouver Sun cartoonist Graham Harrop, hits on one of retirees’ biggest mysteries: their future health.
The elderly live with the anxiety of getting a grave illness that isn’t easy to fix, such as cancer or a stroke. And despite having Medicare insurance, they also have to worry how much it would cost them and whether they would run through all of their savings.
They’re right to worry. Health care costs increase as people age from their 50s into their 60s and 70s. About one in five baby boomers between 55 and 64 pays extraordinary out-of-pocket medical expenses in any given year. But by 75, the odds increase to one in four, according to a report summarizing the reasons that some seniors’ finances become fragile.
Large, unexpected medical expenses are one of two major financial shocks that threaten their security – widowhood is the other. A small and unlucky share of retirees will find it difficult to absorb a spike in their medical costs, forcing them to cut back on food or medications, the report said.
Harrop’s cartoon is the product of his cousin’s inspired suggestion that he fill a book with cartoons about the humorous accommodations made between couples who’ve lived together for decades. The book – “Living Together after Retirement: or, There’s a Spouse in the House” – reveals his personal knowledge of the subject. Harrop, who is 73, has lived with his partner, Annie, for more than 20 years.Learn More
April 3, 2018
Dependence on Social Security is Striking
A retiree’s sources of money are often described as a three-legged stool: Social Security, pension, and savings.
But many seniors’ financial support looks more like a single, sturdy pillar: Social Security.
This is shown dramatically in new U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) estimates of just how critical the federal program is to millions of older Americans. The data speak for themselves:
- One in two retired households counts on Social Security for at least 50 percent of their total income.
- One in four gets virtually all income – 90 percent – from the program.
The differences among myriad demographic groups also follow the usual socioeconomic patterns, according to the SSA researchers, Irena Dushi, Howard M. Iams, and Brad Trenkamp. …Learn More
February 22, 2018
What’s a Geriatric Care Manager Anyway?
Staging your parent’s 90th birthday party, accompanying him or her to a doctor’s appointment, or finding the best long-term care facility for the right price – geriatric care managers do all this and much more.
Geriatric care managers come into the profession with expertise ranging from gerontology and nursing to social work and psychology, and they bring a unique perspective to caring for the elderly. Their first loyalty is to your parent and her well-being, though they want to work closely with everyone involved – parent and adult children – to meet the parent’s wishes.
Suzanne Modigliani, an aging life care specialist near Boston, handles “all spheres of an individual’s life – physical, cognitive social, emotional, financial, community and family.” She’ll even make referrals to geriatric care managers for a parent living in a different city.
An elderly person’s top choice for a caregiver is, logically, their spouse – daughters are typically next. And credentialed geriatric care managers are not cheap: they charge anywhere from $100 to $200 per hour, depending in part on an area’s cost of living – hourly charges can be $400 in Manhattan.
So how do adult children know if their parent could benefit from having a geriatric care manager? Modigliani advises them to be on the lookout for unusual behaviors such as growing difficulty with routine financial matters that the parent has always handled, or a bare refrigerator at mom’s house during holiday gatherings.
Unfortunately, it’s often a medical or other crisis that suddenly alerts siblings to problems that have been developing for a while. Waiting until a crisis, when tensions are high, is usually the worst time to deal with emotional issues – including finding a good care manager. Geriatric care managers have experience and can help smooth over these situations. …Learn More
July 7, 2011
Widows Have Social Security Options
Julie Taylor-Cooper, who worked for decades as an accounting manager, now scrapes by on her late husband’s Social Security checks and a $145-a-week job.
Many baby boomers like Taylor-Cooper may not realize there are various strategies for claiming full Social Security benefits that can have a dramatic impact on their retirement security.
“There are eight or nine options for retirees, spouses, and widows,” said Stephen Richardson, spokesman for the Social Security Administration. (Full disclosure: SSA funds this blog.)
Julie Taylor-Cooper from Over Fifty and Out of Work on Vimeo.
June 9, 2011
Wives Learn Finances as Husbands Age
A 29-year-old Ph.D. candidate is challenging the belief that elderly women don’t prepare to take over the household finances after their husbands die and leave the task to them.
The stereotype about older women probably springs from pervasive evidence that women generally have lower levels of financial literacy than men.
But Joanne Hsu at the University of Michigan found that women prepare for the high likelihood that their husbands will die first by beginning to acquire financial knowledge. Some 80 percent of the women in her sample are on track to catch up with their husband’s level of financial knowledge. Her study controlled for low cognition, so her findings measure the wife’s improvements that are above and beyond her husband’s. …Learn More