May 2020

Photo of preschoolers playing

Moms of Kids with Disabilities Get Help

Finding child care is difficult for any working parent. It is an even bigger challenge when the child has a disabling condition.

About 1.2 million children under the age of six in the United States are disabled. A new study suggests that federal child care programs may be helping to keep their mothers employed either by meeting their need for care through programs like Head Start or by subsidizing their child care expenses. These supports are particularly important to low-income, single mothers in precarious financial situations.

Preschool children with disabilities were actually more likely to have regular care – at least 10 hours per week – than children without disabilities. And although disabled children’s care arrangements were more likely to be part-time – as was their mother’s employment – they had higher rates of enrollment in child care centers, rather than being in a relative’s care. In the best situations, the centers provide the specialized care these children need.

Their child care costs were also significantly lower, perhaps due to the federal subsidies. For example, families of four-year-olds with disabilities spend less, on average, than the families of children without disabilities, according to research for the Retirement and Disability Research Consortium.

Mothers who stay home to care for infants usually start migrating back to work when the children become toddlers or are approaching kindergarten age.

The researchers gauged the effectiveness of the federal child care programs for disabled preschoolers by comparing their mothers’ employment patterns with other working mothers. The analysis, based on data from U.S. Department of Education interviews with parents, found that both groups had similar changes in their work behavior during these challenging early years.

Federal child care policies, the researchers concluded, “may be adequately supporting employment for parents of children with disabilities.” …Learn More

Nursing home sign

How COVID-19 Spreads in Nursing Homes

The coronavirus has pulled back the curtain on longstanding problems in nursing homes. In 2014, the Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services had reported that more than one in five seniors in skilled nursing facilities experienced “adverse events.” These included poor medical care, patient neglect, and inadequate infection control, which frequently sent residents to the hospital.

Now, some nursing homes have become COVID-19 hotspots. This has contributed to disproportionate numbers of deaths among people over age 70, who may also have weakened immune systems that make them more susceptible to the virus or underlying medical conditions that increase their mortality rate.  

Anthony Chicotel, a staff attorney with California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform, discussed what he’s seen in nursing homes in the months since the pandemic began.  

Briefly, Tony, name the big three underlying problems you feel caused the virus to spread. 

Chicotel: No. 1 is chronic understaffing to meet the needs of the residents and to perform all the basic functions required every day. No. 2 would be a tolerance for poor infection control practices. This flows from No. 1 because good infection control requires time, and it’s one of the things that gets cut when you’re pressed for time. No. 3 might be the practice of staff working in multiple facilities. Because they are often low-paid, it’s not unusual for them to work for two different companies that do nursing home care, or they might also work for an assisted living provider. This cross-pollination contributes to the spread of the virus among facilities. We’ve also learned that most of the staff who had the coronavirus have been asymptomatic.

The problems in nursing homes are not new?

Chicotel: I think we should’ve anticipated this. Coronavirus has brought all this out into the open but the Centers for Disease Control cites a a pre-pandemic study that found that up to 388,000 nursing home residents die each year resulting from poor control of infections such as Methicillin-resistant bacteria (MRSA) and urinary tract and respiratory infections. We’ve just accepted this staggering breakdown of infection control for a long time. I’m an advocate, and it wasn’t something I really focused on either. It’s been begging to be addressed in a significant way for some time.

Talk about infection control. In this pandemic, everyone is aware that hand washing is critical to stopping the virus. You cited a report by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) that 36 percent of long-term care facilities do not comply with hand-washing protocols and 25 percent do not comply with protocols for personal protective equipment (PPE).  Learn More

Lost Wealth Today vs the Great Recession

For older workers starting to think about retiring, the economic maelstrom the coronavirus set in motion is a reminder of that sinking feeling they experienced just over a decade ago.

In 2008, the stock market plunged nearly 40 percent, accelerating the steep decline that was underway in U.S. house prices. The unfolding 2020 recession is playing out differently. But both downturns have one thing in common: Social Security as a stabilizing influence on older workers’ retirement finances.

Baby Boomers lost wealthA 2011 study of the change in baby boomers’ finances during the Great Recession found that total wealth dipped by 2.8 percent, on average, between 2006 and 2010 for households between ages 51 and 56.

The 2.8 percent decline in wealth at the time was a significant setback for baby boomers. In more normal times, earlier generations had increased their wealth by 3 percent to 8 percent at comparable ages.

Nevertheless, things could have been so much worse for baby boomers were it not for the substantial wealth they had built up over several decades in their future Social Security benefits – an amount that is unaffected by the collapse of financial and housing markets. The average value of these future Social Security benefits was 30 percent of boomers’ wealth.

Wealth in the study also included home equity and retirement plan accounts.

This time around, it’s too early to determine the severity of the downturn’s effects on older workers. Unlike the previous recession, though, this one has had little impact on house prices so far, and the stock market, after sinking in March, has regained about half of its losses thanks to aggressive action by the Federal Reserve.

The major worry is unemployment. The jobless rate approached 15 percent in March – well above the 2009 peak of 10 percent – and economists expect it to keep rising.

But, in any recession, Social Security is a stabilizing force. Today, it represents a large share of older workers’ wealth just as it did a decade ago. And lower- and middle-income workers’ benefits are a much larger share of wealth, because they are far less likely to have substantial assets in 401(k)s. …Learn More

The Profound Financial Pain of COVID-19

It was hard to miss the news last year that four out of 10 people couldn’t come up with $400 if they had an emergency. The coronavirus is that emergency – on steroids.

A wave of new surveys asking Americans about their personal finances reveal the depth of a crisis that has suddenly befallen untold numbers of people. And the worst, economists say, is probably still ahead of us.
Financial Stress chart
As of last week, 36.5 million people had filed for unemployment benefits, and that doesn’t include some workers who were furloughed or have not yet been able to file their applications for benefits. The Federal Reserve said nearly 40 percent of people living in households earning less than $40,000 have lost their jobs.

As the virus tore through the country in April, most adults cited a lack of savings as the reason for their financial stress in a survey by the National Endowment for Financial Education.

What many people have, instead, is debt. In recent years, consumers loaded up on credit card and other debt – for bigger houses, new cars, vacations. This is what people do when the job market is strong and confidence is riding high. …Learn More

Photo of pills

Opioid Abuse Tied to Where People Live

In 2019, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in northern Oklahoma detained one doctor charged with operating a pill mill that prescribed opioids to addicts for the simple reason that he presented “a danger to our community.”

While mental illness and unemployment are familiar culprits in the opioid crisis sweeping the country, the environment that people live in – including the prevalence of unscrupulous doctors – is actually important as well.

That’s one conclusion in a new study that found that people are more likely to become addicts if they move from an area with a relatively low level of prescription opioid abuse to a high-abuse area.

The research looked at more than 3 million people on federal disability insurance (DI) – a group that uses opioids at much higher rates than the general population. More than half of DI recipients are prescribed opioids in a given year. And since they are covered by Medicare, the researchers had access to the prescription records for Oxycontin, Vicodin, and morphine.

To gauge the impact of moving to a new location, the researchers created an index that estimated the extent of prescription opioid abuse in each U.S. county. The index took into account several factors, including the amount of opioids prescribed to patients and their use of multiple prescribers.

When DI recipients moved from a county at the low end of this index – the 25th percentile – to the high end – the 75th percentile – their rate of prescription opioid use increased nearly 5 percent, according to the study conducted for the Retirement and Disability Research Consortium.

People with a prior history of prescription opioid use were at particularly high risk of prescription opioid abuse if they moved to a high-use area. …Learn More

Estimate Your Unemployment Check Here

People standing in line for a grocery store during the pandemic

Florida’s unemployment office, after denying benefits to some 260,000 residents, said that it made a mistake. From Maine to California, laid-off workers scheme to outfox crashing websites or wait for hours on the phone to apply for benefits at state unemployment offices.

Thirty million people have filed for unemployment benefits so far, and countless others are trying. Frustration is a way of life for millions of people desperately in need of money for essentials.

If you’re curious about how much your benefit will be – when you eventually get through – or if you fear a layoff is in your future, Zippia has something for you.

Highest and Lowest UI benefitsThe job listing and career advice website has created a calculator that will provide a ballpark estimate of your weekly benefit. Just enter your income and the state you live in, and Zippia’s estimate will be calculated using your state’s unique benefit formula.

The estimate is the total of your benefit from the state, which is based on your pay, plus the $600 additional payment Congress recently threw in. These new federal payments are scheduled to expire at the end of July.

The size of the unemployment check roughly corresponds with each state’s cost of living. Nevertheless, the weekly maximum benefits in some states are disproportionately higher, including in Massachusetts, where the maximum is $823 per week, followed by Washington ($790). The lowest maximum benefits are in Arizona ($240) and Mississippi ($235).

“Our goal is to give as much useful information for people who are in a really tough situation,” said Zippia’s Kathy Morris, who was involved in collecting the state data and designing the calculator.

Whatever your state provides to the unemployed, if you’re entitled to a benefit, you should get it. …Learn More

Photo of mother and daughter

Parents Cut Back Aid to Kids in Downturn

When the economy tips into a recession, as it is doing in reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic, the question of whether parents will give financial help to their adult children could conceivably go either way.

Parents looking for some peace of mind might throw a financial lifeline to their struggling or unemployed offspring. Or parents who’ve been providing some support might pull back.

One study of how parents in the United States and Germany handled this dilemma found that they retrenched in both countries during the Great Recession.

Parents are often an important source of support for their adult children. But between 2005 and the peak of the recession in 2009, the share of U.S. parents providing financial or in-kind support fell from 38 percent to 35 percent.

Germans are less likely to help their children in the first place, and they pulled back even more over the four-year period, from 24 percent to 10 percent of the parents, according to the 2017 study, which was funded by the U.S. Social Security Administration.

By 2011, the two countries had started to diverge: the Germans were stepping up their support again, while Americans continued to pull back. One obvious reason German parents snapped back earlier was that their economy recovered more quickly. …Learn More