September 30, 2021
Retirement Saving is Focus of Popular Blogs
U.S. retirement preparedness can best be described as mediocre: about half of workers are not saving enough money to continue their current standard of living once they retire.
Judging by a dozen blogs that attracted the most web traffic in the third quarter, our readers understand the importance of the issue. Some felt strongly that workers need to take responsibility for their retirement finances. Workers “disregard the notion of saving for the future,” one reader said in a comment posted to “Onus of Retirement Planning is on Us.” “They have lived their lives like there is no tomorrow and spend money on any and everything they want.”
To boost savings, growing numbers of state officials and employers are taking charge. The article, “State Auto-IRAs are Building Momentum,” was a roundup of states that are either implementing or weighing a requirement that employers automatically enroll their employees in an IRA. The workers can always opt out if they want to, but they often remain in the plans.
And automatic enrollment in 401(k)s and 403(b)s is gaining traction in the private sector. The plans, which were virtually nonexistent in 2003, now make up a significant minority of corporate and non-profit plans, according to a unique database that tracked the changes in plan design. A summary of this research appears in “401(k) Plans Evolve to Boost Workers’ Savings.”
Baby boomers never seem to get enough information about the nuts and bolts of retirement. In “Enrollment Trends in Medicare Options,” readers had a vigorous debate about the advantages and disadvantages of supplemental Medigap plans versus Medicare Advantage insurance policies. The article revealed a major shift away from Medigap and into Medicare Advantage, which has the benefit of relatively low premiums, with the tradeoff being that Advantage plans tend to provide less protection from large medical bills than Medigap.
Our readers are also interested in the difficult decisions boomers are making about when to retire. The article, “Not Everyone Can Delay their Retirement,” highlighted the racial and educational disparities driving these decisions. And “Disability Discrimination and Aging Workers” dealt with the choice facing aging workers whose bodies are breaking down but who can’t afford to retire.
Here are a few more articles that attracted readers’ attention – some about retirement and some not: …Learn More
September 14, 2021
Wanted: Workers without College Degrees
The PBS NewsHour has some terrific reporting on an important topic: the job market for the two-thirds of working-age adults who don’t have a college degree.
The problem facing many of them is that, despite their hard work, they will earn much less over their lifetimes than college graduates. In stories for the NewsHour, Paul Solman highlights the opportunities available to workers without degrees at a time that many employers are scrambling to find smart, energetic people to fill good-paying jobs with benefits in light manufacturing and the skilled trades.
Women of color are catching on and entering fields like carpentry and plumbing – in fact, they are over-represented in the trades. But Solman talked to employers early this year who cannot find enough young adults willing to consider working in the trades.
This new NewsHour video (above) features IBM, which has to compete for employees with flashy firms like Apple and Google. IBM created an internship program to train people like Reinaldo Rodriguez for “new-collar jobs” that don’t require a bachelor’s degree. The former supervisor for a drug store chain that cut his pay after he was promoted now works in an IBM electronics lab.
Opportunities like these pay enough for people to support their families. And they are a great alternative to borrowing a lot of money for a bachelor’s degree that won’t necessarily guarantee a job. …Learn More
August 3, 2021
Video: Secrets to Protect Your Aging Brain
Just a few weeks after my 64th birthday, I discovered an interesting video. The timing couldn’t have been better.
The topic: maintaining brain health as we age. This video has tips, based on research, for preserving or improving memory and reducing brain inflammation, which is a culprit in cognitive decline.
“Daily lifestyle habits have a much bigger impact on your longevity than your genes,” Dr. Gary Small, former director of UCLA’s Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, explains in the video.
Did you know that Indian people have less dementia, because they eat so much turmeric in their curries? Or that a brisk 20-minute walk every day lowers the risk of Alzheimer’s disease? Most people know that yoga, meditation and tai-chi reduce stress, but did you know that stress is, according to Dr. Small, “the enemy of healthy aging”?
His message is encouraging: there are things you can control to help you live a good life in old age. “It’s easier to protect a healthy brain than to repair the damage,” he said. …Learn More
July 22, 2021
Retirement Researchers to Meet Aug. 5-6
The pandemic will be on the marquee at this year’s annual meeting of retirement and disability researchers.
COVID-19 has encroached on every aspect of older Americans’ lives, from their day-to-day work and home life to their retirement planning. Researchers will present studies on three impacts of the pandemic in presentations funded by the U.S. Social Security Administration.
The event will be held over two days, Thursday and Friday, Aug. 5 and 6, from noon to 4 p.m. The event will be virtual again this year and anyone can sign up to attend for free.
The first study on the agenda will explore the pandemic’s impact on older workers’ ability or willingness to work and on their retirement decisions. And for the adults who lost their jobs during COVID-19’s economic downturn, a second study will explain whether the slump will affect their future Social Security benefits. In the final study relating to the pandemic, researchers will assess whether the relief bills passed by Congress helped older people.
Other prominent topics of discussion include retirement planning and retirees’ financial security. These will include new findings on workers’ decisions about saving, retirees’ decisions about spending, and the financial adjustments couples make after their children leave home.
The final major topic is federal benefits for people with disabilities. The presentations here include the relationship between the benefits and two government programs: food stamps and workers compensation insurance.
Summaries of the working papers will be posted online for the meetings. …Learn More
July 15, 2021
Retirees’ Home Equity: Useful but Unused
Many older Americans could benefit from using home equity for some much-needed income in retirement. But they have found many reasons not to.
Some want to preserve that housing wealth for their kids. Others don’t like the idea of cashing in on the equity if it means relocating to a smaller house or apartment or a less expensive neighborhood. They also have plenty of concerns about federally insured reverse mortgages, which are a way to extract equity but are complicated to understand.
These doubts, expressed in readers’ comments on recent articles, are persistent. But economists see things differently: home equity has great potential to ease retirees’ financial problems – after all, roughly $8 trillion of wealth is locked up in older people’s houses.
K. Friesen is a rare reader who agrees. She said a couple women in her family are proof of the benefits of deploying home equity. Thanks to a reverse mortgage, her aunt had “a roof over her head until she died at age 97,” Friesen wrote in a comment posted to “Tapping Home Equity – Retirees’ Relief Valve.” The article described a study demonstrating that using home equity is effective in reducing financial hardship.
Now Friesen’s mother has a reverse mortgage. “If she can squeeze every dime out of the little she has to have a better quality of life, I’m all for it.”
The advantage of reverse mortgages is that they don’t have to be paid back before the homeowner dies – the catch is that the borrower must continue to live in the house. A potential downside, as a reader noted, is that if a retiree has to sell the house and pay the loan back, the balance and accrued interest will have depleted equity.
But in fact, selling in retirement is an unlikely scenario. Nearly three out of four older workers either don’t move out of their current home or, when they retire, they sell their house, buy a new one, and stay put, according to research featured in “Most Older Americans Age in their Homes.”
Granted, these homeowners tend to be healthier than the older people who move around more. But Paul Brustowicz said even retirees who have health issues want the same thing as everyone else: to age in their own homes. …Learn More
April 1, 2021
What the Research Can Tell us about Retiring
It’s difficult to envision what life will look like on the other side of the consequential decision to retire.
But research can help demystify what lies ahead – about the decision itself, the financial challenges, and even the taxes. Readers understand this, as evidenced by the most popular blog posts in the first three months of the year.
Here are the highlights:
The retirement decision. The article, “Retirement Ages Geared to Life Expectancy,” attracted the most reader traffic. Myriad considerations go into a decision to retire. But a sense of whether one might live a long time – because of good health or simply seeing that parents or neighbors are living unusually long – is a compelling reason to postpone retirement either to remain active or to build up one’s finances to fund a longer retirement.
A recent study found that as men’s life spans have increased, they have responded by remaining in the labor force longer, especially in areas of the country with strong job markets and more opportunity. This is also true, though to a lesser extent, for working women.
The planning. The second most popular blog was, “Big Picture Helps with Retirement Finances.” It described the success researchers have had with an online tool they designed, which shows older workers the impact on their retirement income of various decisions. When participants in the experiment selected when to start Social Security or how to withdraw 401(k) funds, the tool estimated their total retirement income. If they changed their minds, the income estimate would change.
The tool isn’t sold commercially. But it’s encouraging that researchers are looking for real-world solutions to the financial planning problem, since the insights from experiments like these often make their way into the online tools that are available to everyone.
The taxes. It’s common for a worker’s income to drop after retiring. So the good news shouldn’t be surprising in a study highlighted in a recent blog, “How Much Will Your Retirement Taxes Be?” Four out of five retired households pay little or no federal and state income taxes, the researchers found. But taxes are an important consideration for retirees who have saved substantial sums. …Learn More
March 16, 2021
Video: Grandparents as Substitute Parents
In 2015, the journal Pediatrics estimated some 3 million children were living with grandparents – and the number is certainly higher today. Grandparents find themselves in a caregiving role in the aftermath of parents’ myriad personal traumas, including opioid addiction, suicide, incarceration, and now COVID-19.
In this excellent PBS NewsHour video, “Grandfamilies,” grandparents tell journalist Stephanie Sy about the financial and emotional toll of caring for children. Despite the challenges, they wouldn’t have it any other way.
But the financial strain is real. Some of the people Sy interviewed said their childcare duties have forced them to close businesses, and others are earning less due to the pandemic.
Lisa Banks stretches herself thin helping each of her three grandchildren with their remote learning. The new members of her household have also increased the electricity and food bills – her two grandsons are teenagers. “It’s like, I’m hungry, I’m hungry, I’m hungry. You hear it all day,” said Banks, who gets food assistance from a non-profit on Sundays.
COVID-19 adds another layer of worries. Kim Elia, who is standing in for her 11-year-old granddaughter’s parents, is recovering from the disease. “I was truly afraid to die because of what would happen to Brooklyn,” she said.
Raising children is a big job for young adults. A second go-around late in life seems even harder. …Learn More