Author Archives: Kim Blanton

COVID Hasn’t Pushed Boomers into Retiring

Three months into the pandemic, a few million older workers had been laid off or quit. But what happened next?

The rapid drop in employment due to COVID gave the Center for Retirement Research an unusual opportunity to study the labor force decisions of baby boomers, who are within striking distance of retirement age but may or may not be ready to take the leap.

Traditionally, older workers who left a job tended to retire. But there was little indication that the people who stopped working during the pandemic saw retirement as their best fallback option.

This conclusion by the researchers is consistent with the pre-COVID trend of boomers working longer to put themselves in a better financial position when they eventually do retire. In fact, many older workers have returned to the labor force as the economy has rebounded and vaccines have become widely available.

Little impact on older workers retiringBut in April 2020, job departures spiked before settling back down at a new, much higher level. The annual pace of departures increased from 15 percent of workers 55 and over in 2019, prior to COVID, to 23 percent in 2020.

The researchers found a surprise when they looked at who stopped working. Although older people are vulnerable to becoming seriously ill from COVID, age wasn’t a big factor in their decisions. Boomers in their 60s were no more likely to leave their jobs than people in their mid- to late-50s, according to the analysis of monthly Census Bureau surveys.

The groups most likely to leave the labor force were women, Asian-Americans, and workers who either don’t have a college degree or don’t have a job that easily lends itself to working remotely.

But among all of the age 55-plus workers in the study, the share reporting that they had retired barely increased, from an average of 12 percent prior to COVID to 13 percent last year.

The only people who left their jobs and retired in significant numbers during the pandemic were over 70. This finding reinforced what the researchers found in data from the U.S. Social Security Administration: the pandemic didn’t have a major impact on retirement because the share of workers between 62 and 70 who signed up for Social Security was relatively flat between April 2019 and June 2021. …Learn More

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Medicaid to Help Fill Gap in Seniors’ Care

Two previous studies on long-term care reported in this blog estimated how many of today’s 65-year-olds today will require care for minimal, moderate, or severe levels of need as they age and how many have the financial resources to cover each level of care that might be required.

In the third and final study in this series, the Center for Retirement Research matched the specific levels of need each retiree is projected to have in the future with their resources to determine how many of them will fall short.

Among all retirees, 22 percent are expected to have minimal needs for care and 9 percent will lack the family and financial resources to cover it – in other words, just under half of the people in this group will fall short. The shortfall among people with moderate needs will be larger: the comparable figures are 38 percent of all retirees will be at this level and 21 percent of retirees will fall short. Finally, 24 percent of retirees are expected to have severe care needs – for at least five years – and 16 percent will fall short.

But there is another critical source of support: Medicaid. The researchers find that the joint federal-state program dramatically reduces the share of retirees with insufficient resources to cover their care.

Not everyone qualifies for Medicaid, however. Older Americans can get the funding if they meet two conditions. First, they must have a serious health issue, such as dementia or a physical or medical condition that limits their activity. Second, the program covers nursing homes only for retirees with little in the way of financial resources, either because they had lower-paying jobs and didn’t save or because they exhausted most of the retirement savings they had scraped together.

Medicaid and LTSS graphWhen Medicaid is added to the picture, the program makes a significant dent. Among the 65-year-olds who will need moderate care, the share of all retirees who lack the resources to cover it drops from 21 percent to 14 percent when Medicaid funding is included. Medicaid also reduces the burden on boomers who will need high levels of care: the share lacking adequate resources drops from 16 percent to 11 percent.

The researchers didn’t include Medicaid in the resources available to the 9 percent of retirees who will need only minimal help with chores like cleaning or grocery shopping. The program typically doesn’t pay for these services, though there has been movement in a handful of states and at the federal level to loosen the restrictions around housekeeping. …Learn More

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Is Americans’ Savings Buffer Wearing Thin?

COVID has worn Americans down emotionally. But it might be eating away at their financial reserves too – at least for some people.

As the pandemic has dragged on, many people said in newly released surveys that they are more anxious about their finances and feel that their savings are wearing thin.

We won’t get a true picture of the pandemic’s impact until it is far away in the rear-view mirror. For one thing, Congress’ intent when it doled out historic amounts of cash assistance to workers was to carry them through the COVID lockdowns and resulting unemployment. And it worked.

After federal relief checks were deposited into bank accounts, the saving rate shot up to about 34 percent in April 2020 and to almost 27 percent in March 2021 – the highest levels this country has seen in decades. The rate has floated down to single digits as people have spent the extra money but remains relatively high.

Recent job gains and wage increases should also bolster balance sheets. Businesses added 626,000 more jobs in June through September than the U.S. Department of Labor had originally estimated, and October was a blockbuster month, with 531,000 new jobs created. In the November jobs report, unemployment hit a pre-pandemic low of 4.2 percent.

But these signs of progress are mixed in with feelings of unease. One thing is clear from surveys of workers by T. Rowe Price, said Joshua Dietch, vice president: The challenges that existed before COVID “didn’t get any lighter as a result of the pandemic.”

NPR also fielded a financial survey in August and September of this year. More than a third of U.S. households said they are having “serious financial problems.” And the workers who have suffered the most during the economic downturn last year – people of color – are in the worst shape: more than half of Black, Hispanic, and Native American households said their financial problems were serious.

A deterioration in savings could be behind that feeling of financial insecurity. Nearly 40 percent of households in NPR’s survey with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health said they have no “savings to fall back on” – that is double the share who reported having no savings prior to COVID. The share of Blacks, Hispanics, and Native Americans who lack savings also doubled, though to much higher levels of 63 percent, 56 percent, and 55 percent, respectively. …Learn More

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Men Make Bigger Changes After Retiring

Men are from Mars. Women are from Venus. That continues to hold true in retirement.

A new study that examines two aspects of this major life change – personal and financial relationships – finds that men and women use their newfound freedom in different ways.

The change in men’s social lives after they retire is more dramatic because they greatly expand their network of friends, adult children, and extended family, and they have more conversations with them about personal matters.

Men “become more dependent on family,” concludes research by two University of Wisconsin sociologists.

Retirement doesn’t mark the same type of social shift for women, however. They already had a larger network and always took more responsibility for maintaining relationships, and not much changes in retirement – with one exception. Women increase the number of hours spent taking care of their grandchildren.

The differences are consistent across much of the western world, according to this study, which was based on surveys in the United States and Europe – from Sweden to Spain to Estonia. Although married and single people participated in the survey, the heart of the analysis was asking each individual this question:

“Looking back over the last 12 months, who are the people with whom you most often discussed things that are important to you?” Each individual listed up to five people in their networks, the nature of the relationships, and how often they are in contact.

In addition to branching out socially, retired men are more likely to give money to offspring or other family members. In married couples, this is often jointly decided by husband and wife. But the actual money transfers picked up only after the men – and not the women – retired and had more energy to devote to family. …Learn More

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Small Business Backing of Paid Leave Grows

The pandemic exposed inequities in the U.S. healthcare system. It also revealed a related shortcoming in our workplaces: the lack of mandated paid family and medical leave for most Americans – and especially lower-paid workers.

The United States is the only developed country that does not have a national policy of paid time off for an extended period for illness or maternity leave. In that way, we are keeping company with places like Micronesia and Tonga.

Many major employers do offer sick time and paid or unpaid maternity leave. Even so, 60 percent of the highest-paid workers, who tend to work in larger companies, don’t have access to paid leave for themselves or a family member for extended periods for a severe illness, according to the National Partnership for Women and Families. The situation is much tougher for lower-paid workers, who are concentrated in small business: 93 percent lack access to paid leave.

Last month, the House approved a reconciliation bill that would mandate four weeks of paid leave for all workers in the event that they or family members become ill. It’s uncertain whether this provision of the reconciliation bill will clear the Senate.

The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) has opposed paid leave in the past, arguing that workers who take extended time off strain under-staffed small employers. Although the federal government would pay a supplement to employers for the leave under the House bill, NFIB said the required paperwork creates administrative headaches.

But this position isn’t supported by small business owners, according to a new study. Even prior to the pandemic, they were in favor of a paid leave policy for employees to take care of family members – and COVID has only strengthened their resolve.

In the fall of 2019, 62 percent of small businesses in New Jersey and New York were very or somewhat supportive of paid family leave, the researchers found. By the fall of 2020 – after months of wrestling with how to handle employees whose family members had contracted COVID – small employers’ support had jumped to 71 percent. …Learn More

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Disability Overpayments Discourage Work

About one in five people on federal disability has some type of job, but the government limits how much they can earn without jeopardizing their cash benefits.

The Social Security Administration wants disability beneficiaries to hold down a job if they can. But when they earn more than the allowed limit in a given month – $1,310 in 2021 – the government sometimes ends up overpaying them for benefits that should’ve been withheld that month. This usually occurs because workers forget to notify the agency they had started a job or fail to provide their earnings information in a timely way.

When the mistake is discovered, Social Security sends a notice asking that the overpaid benefits be returned in the form of a cash payment or a reduction in future disability checks. But the repayments, which usually span several months, are a lot of money – around $9,000 – for a financially vulnerable population.

The problem, according to a Mathematica study forthcoming in the journal Contemporary Economic Policy, is that some people, soon after receiving a notice, reduce their hours or stop working altogether. One beneficiary described the repayment requests as a “penalty for working.”

In an analysis of an SSA database that tracks overpayments, the researchers examined the impact of the notices on working disability recipients who received them between 2007 and 2014. Six months prior to receiving a notice, 58 percent were employed and earning over the limit.

This employment rate declined gradually each month, presumably due to natural attrition. But the researchers find that the drop in the rate accelerated in the month they received the overpayment notice and in the following month, falling by 8 percent over that two-month period. About half of that decline was a response to the notices.

Leaving a job conflicts with Social Security’s goal of encouraging beneficiaries to maintain at least part-time work and improve their overall well-being – and if they have a milder disability, eventually return to the labor force full-time and end their reliance on benefits. …Learn More

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Financial Troubles Hide in Soaring Markets

Texas Securities Commissioner Travis Iles says we’re living in a perfect storm – for financial fraud.

Bitcoin Isolated at home to avoid COVID, people are spending more time online, and he suspects that some have become more susceptible to fraud because they think a big win would take the edge off of the financial uncertainties of the pandemic. And social media only feeds the frenzy, giving scam artists a natural audience for selling their “investments” – and for recruiting others on social media to help them.

“People look for follows and likes and they’re dialed in on a lot of social media platforms that three to four years ago were very foreign,” Iles said in a recent interview. “It’s actually influencing people’s decisions about where” to invest their money.

In March 2020, just as the pandemic took hold, he began tracking how many administrative and enforcement actions his office had taken. Over the next 18 months, his office launched some 450 investigations, resulting in more than 60 actions against suspicious companies selling investments to Texans.

“We’ve never been more prolific in terms of output,” he added.

The craziness of these times can be seen in a recent cease-and-desist order issued by the Texas Securities Division against a company promising wild returns of 30 percent in 60 days or 50 percent in 90 days to investors in a nebulous operation: cryptocurrency cloud mining.

Cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin are complicated enough – but mining cryptocurrency? As one law firm explains, it’s a treasure hunt that “involves validating cryptocurrency transactions on a blockchain network and adding them to a distributed ledger.” …Learn More

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