uber driver

Older and Self-Employed – a Satisfied Group

The transition to retirement can take many paths.

A couple years ago, Joelle Abramowitz at the University of Michigan described three groups of self-employed workers over 50. The bulk of them work independently, either as independent contractors or doing odd jobs, and are more often minorities, with very low pay and few employee benefits. Think Uber driver. The other two groups are business managers and business owners, who are predominantly white, male and in good financial shape.

In a follow-up to her earlier research, Abramowitz dug into 24 years of data to understand the self-employed older workers’ attitudes toward work and the transition to retirement. She found a heterogeneous group with a range of views about whether they are transitioning at all.

The independent contractors and workers stand out for being more likely to describe themselves as “partially retired.” Although they are self-employed, they apparently have their eyes on retiring. In addition to gig workers, they might be a caregiver, a stylist in someone else’s salon, or someone who drives people to the airport for a chauffeur company.

These workers have started their current jobs more recently than the owners and managers and say the work itself is not particularly stressful, which could indicate one of two things – that the job is less challenging than their past work or that its main purpose is just to generate extra income to bridge the financial gap to full retirement.

The owners and managers are much less likely to consider themselves in any stage of being retired, even though their roles may be changing. Their level of engagement reflects that. They usually work 30 to 40 hours and feel more stressed than the independent self-employed workers or older employees who are still on a company payroll. …Learn More

The Bridge to a Larger Social Security Check

Retirees who postpone collecting Social Security from age 62 to 66 – the full retirement age for most baby boomers – get around a third more in their monthly checks. Delaying to 70 increases it even more.

There’s one problem with this strategy. Many people want to retire well before they turn 66.

But there is an alternative for people with 401(k) savings: retire but don’t sign up for Social Security and withdraw an amount from the 401(k) equivalent to the Social Security check. Then delay Social Security for a few years. The start date will, of course, depend on how much money is in savings and how much of it the retiree can spend comfortably.

In a recent experiment, this idea appealed to a substantial minority of older workers who were made aware they could create this so-called “bridge” to a larger Social Security check.

The researchers randomly assigned the workers – all between 50 and 65 – to one of four groups. Each group was presented with the same choice of whether to use the bridge strategy but the choice was described differently. Regardless of the description, the share of participants willing to consider the strategy fell within a range of 27 percent to 35 percent.

This level of interest is “noteworthy,” given that “the survey is likely the first time the respondents would have encountered the idea of drawing down their 401(k)s to postpone claiming Social Security,” said the researchers at the Center for Retirement Research. …Learn More

Women Get Less from Workers’ Comp

Women receive less medical care for their health problems than men with the same conditions, research shows. And doctors are more likely to tell women their symptoms are emotional rather than physical.

Differential treatment for men and women also exists in another corner of the healthcare system: workers’ compensation claims.

Women injured on the job who are evaluated by female doctors are more likely to be determined to have an injury that qualifies them for workers’ comp benefits than when the doctors are men, according to Marika Cabral at the University of Texas at Austin and Marcus Dillender at Vanderbilt University.

Among the women whose injuries are under review, the evaluations performed by female doctors result in 9 percent more benefits than evaluations by male doctors.

In contrast, the likelihood of the men in the study receiving benefits and the dollar amount of their benefits are about the same regardless of whether their doctors are men or women.

The researchers said their findings are consistent with male doctors evaluating female patients against a stricter standard than male patients, while female doctors apply similar standards to all their patients.Learn More

Most Boomers Don’t Rely Solely on SSA.gov

In 2000, Social Security launched a website allowing retirees to sign up for their benefits online without having to call or visit the agency. By 2013, about half of new retirees were using this feature to file their claims. However, progress stalled after that, despite continued growth in the number of baby boomers who were retiring.

A new survey of 2,600 people between ages 57 and 70 finds that even the people who sign up for their benefits online often wind up contacting Social Security for assistance. In the end, only 37 percent of all retirees claim completely online and never visit a field office or call the agency’s 800 number at some point during that process, suggests research by Jean-Pierre Aubry, a researcher at the Center for Retirement Research.

The boomers who are the most likely to complete the entire application online are college-educated people who are comfortable banking or filing their taxes, according to Aubry’s study. At the same time, older people of color are more hesitant to sign up for their benefits without calling or visiting their local Social Security office.

Given Social Security’s staff shortage and budget constraints, both the agency and retirees would benefit from fewer calls and visits. Fortunately, the share of retirees who apply for benefits exclusively online is likely to increase in the future. It is second nature for young adults – regardless of their race or whether they went to college – who grew up with cell phones in their hands to manage their finances online or buy things. When they start retiring, they will be more at ease than their parents with signing up for benefits without speaking with someone at the agency.

But there are things Social Security could do to increase online activity now. The agency already provides a personalized online statement that details eligibility and benefit levels for workers of all ages who create a my Social Security account. Based on the survey of older workers, Social Security could make it easier to get answers to basic inquiries such as whether an application, once submitted, is being processed. …Learn More

Caregiving’s Toll on Work Happens Quickly

Caregiving often wins out in the struggle between work and fulfilling one’s obligation to a family member or friend who needs help.

Researchers have documented the phenomenon of workers being forced to eventually leave their jobs so they can devote more time to the person in their care. But the impact on the work lives of the people who are new to their caregiving duties is often dramatic and happens very quickly, a new study finds.

Employment levels for workers who become caregivers declined by 6 percent within a year after they started, and most of the drop occurred because they left the labor force entirely, according to the analysis linking Census Bureau surveys on informal care with the Social Security Administration’s employment records for working-age adults.

The decline in employment may occur as early as four months after caregiving starts, based on a second analysis using only the Census data.

Caregivers who decide to stop working are also more likely to go on federal disability – either right away or years later. Many of the people receiving the benefits are older people who, despite their disabilities, had persisted in their jobs. Once they were needed by a family member, they may have decided to apply for disability to offset some of the loss of income from working.

Indeed, the largest employment declines were experienced by people over age 62, who often have an elderly parent or spouse in need of care – and sometimes both. For many of them, leaving a job coincided with claiming their Social Security benefits in an indication that caregiving is often pushing them to retire. Workers between 45 and 61 saw a smaller decline in employment after becoming caregivers.

Men’s and women’s paths from worker to caregiver are different, however. Women report small declines in their employment levels, and they return to the labor force relatively quickly. The impact on men is more dramatic and long-lasting. …Learn More

Remote Work Has Pushed Up House Prices

Slack, Citizens Bank, Penguin Random House, Verizon, 3M, Twitter – the list is long and growing of companies that have allowed employees to continue working remotely even though the pandemic seems to be easing.

The COVID-19 upheaval in lifestyles – the moving around to larger homes, to the countryside or to an affordable city – is pushing up house prices.

John Mondragon at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco and Johannes Wieland at the University of California, San Diego, estimate that remote work fueled a 15 percent rise in house prices over the two-year period that ended in November 2021. That’s more than half of the total price increase for that period, which was a record, the researchers said.

A few different types of lifestyle changes drove the price hikes. But the bottom line is that remote work caused a frenzy of buying activity that wouldn’t have happened otherwise. The increase in demand sparked competitive bidding for properties – and prices shot up. And the parts of the country where remote work was more common had significantly larger price increases.

The price increases “reflected a change in fundamentals rather than a speculative bubble,” the researchers concluded.

Soon after the pandemic began, workers who were changing their living arrangements made the news. Renters left behind expensive apartments in New York or San Francisco to escape COVID’s dangers. Now working remotely, they used their newfound freedom to become first-time homeowners in an appealing suburb nearby or a rural area halfway across the country where they could afford to buy a house.

The need for larger homes also heated up market activity. Having more space was suddenly more valued by workers who required an additional bedroom to set up a home office or now had to accommodate both spouses working from home – and, early in the pandemic, children attending classes on Zoom.

The researchers stress that they measured only the price increases resulting from an increase in aggregate housing demand nationwide. In other words, people didn’t add to total demand if they simply moved from Chicago, where they sold a condominium, to Des Moines, Iowa, where they purchased a house of similar value. …Learn More

Too Much Debt Taxes Baby Boomers’ Health

work related stress

Staying healthy is becoming a preoccupation for baby boomers as each new medical problem arises and the existing ones worsen.

The stress of having too much debt isn’t helping.

The older workers and retirees who carry debt are less healthy than the people who are debt free, and higher levels of debt have worse health effects, according to Urban Institute research. The type of debt matters too. Unsecured credit cards have more of an impact than secured debt – namely a mortgage backed by property.

Debt can erode an individual’s health in various ways. The stress of carrying a lot of debt has been shown to cause hypertension, depression, and overeating. And it can be a challenge for people to take proper care of themselves if they have onerous debt payments and can’t afford to buy health insurance or, if they are insured, pay the physician and drug copayments.

This is an issue, say researchers Stipica Mudrazija and Barbara Butrica, because the share of people over age 55 with debt and the dollar amount of their debts, adjusted for inflation, have been rising for years. In this population, increasing bankruptcies – a high-stress event – have been the fallout.

In an analysis of two decades of data comparing older workers and retirees with and without debt, the researchers found that having debt is tied to the borrowers’ declining self-evaluations of their mental and physical health. Older people who are in debt are also more likely to be obese, to have at least two diagnosed health conditions, or to suffer from dementia or various ailments that limit their ability to work.

The bulk of their debt is in the form of mortgages, which increasingly have strained household budgets in recent decades as home prices have outpaced incomes. Piled on top of the larger mortgage obligations can be payments for credit card debt, medical debt, car loans, and college loans – often for the boomers’ children. …Learn More