automation conveyer belt

Automation of Jobs Fuels Overdose Deaths

The rise in opioid addiction has created an epidemic of drug overdose deaths in the United States. But what increases the risk that people develop the disorder in the first place?

Automation of the U.S. economy turns out to be a contributing factor, as workers lose good jobs to industrial robots and despair about being disengaged from the labor force, conclude researchers at the University of Pennsylvania and Yale in a study funded by the U.S. Social Security Administration.

Manufacturing jobs, often in unionized industries, used to be a major route to the middle class. But millions of factory jobs disappeared as U.S. companies moved operations overseas. Compounding the job losses, corporate employers began installing robots in their remaining domestic operations. Automation was blamed in one study for eliminating more than 700,000 jobs and causing wage stagnation in the 1990s and early 2000s.

Prior research has connected the flight of manufacturing to increasing deaths from drug overdoses. Now, the new study specifically ties technology – measured as an increase in robots per 1,000 workers – to the increase in overdose deaths.

The men who are most affected by the rise of automation are in their prime working years, and they are concentrated in more industrialized areas. Automation accounted for nearly one in five of their overdose deaths in manufacturing counties. For women, automation was responsible for one in 10 overdose deaths in manufacturing counties. …Learn More

Last will and testament

Retirees Intent on Leaving Homes to Kids

Every year, older homeowners leave billions of dollars worth of the wealth locked up in their houses to their adult children.

This is a paradox if one considers that home equity is one of retirees’ primary assets and could be a crucial source of income for people who are “house rich and income poor.” Retirement experts searching for an explanation have long wondered whether the deceased had intended to leave the house to family or simply died before they were able to cash in on the equity and spend it.

A new study has an answer: retirees have every intention of letting family members inherit their homes. The people in the study who expressed a stronger desire to leave an inheritance of at least $10,000 were much less likely to sell their homes before they died – with the intention that the house would be part, if not all, of that inheritance.

The foundation for this study is a precise estimate of the housing decisions being made in the final two years of life from a survey of older Americans. The researchers counted as many people as possible, including the deceased – their final living status came from interviews with next of kin – as well as people who continued to be homeowners after going into hospice or a nursing home.

The homeownership rate in the older population peaks around age 70 and starts falling precipitously after 80. But when the elderly in the study died, about half of them still owned their homes, while the other half had sold them and moved into rental housing.

At younger ages, the retirees had been asked to estimate the probability, from 0 (no chance) to 100 (definitely), that they would leave a financial inheritance. Based on this information, the researchers found that those who had said they had a high probability of leaving an inheritance remained in their homes.

There is also a financial advantage to the owner of not selling the house to avoid the capital gains tax, especially if the price appreciated dramatically during their lifetimes. The researchers didn’t account for this incentive in their analysis.

But they did find that the desire to leave a bequest is so compelling that parents held on to their homes even after predicting they might need to pay for nursing home care within a few years. …Learn More

Nearly Half on Disability Want to Work

people on disability want to workAn unfortunate misperception about people on federal disability is that they’re not interested in working. In fact, nearly half of them want to work or expect to go back to work, and that share has been rising.

But getting or keeping a job has proved difficult, and the employment rate is very low for people who get Social Security disability benefits – or cash assistance from a companion program, Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Yet the vast majority of beneficiaries have past work experience that should help them in the job market.

Researchers at Mathematica mined a survey of people on disability for clues about how to help them find a job or promotion or learn a new skill.

Many of these work-oriented individuals are under extreme financial pressures and are also younger and healthier, despite their disabilities, than the people on disability who didn’t express a desire to work.

Yet only a third of the 2.6 million beneficiaries in the new study who say they want to work are either working now, were recently employed, or are looking for a job.

So, if they are willing to work and feel able to work, why are so few of them in the labor force?

The researchers landed on two big reasons. First, the work-oriented individuals, despite their desire to work, said they can’t find a job. This is a common experience because employers are either reluctant to hire people with disabilities or the available jobs don’t accommodate them. Others are hesitant to try the job market again because they feel discouraged by past employment experiences.

Second, the majority of work-oriented beneficiaries are unaware of federal programs designed to support a return to work or connect them with employers. …Learn More

employees working processing packages

Growing Job Demands Fall Harder on Some

As technology transforms the work world, jobs that were once routine might now require good interpersonal skills or the ability to quickly adjust to the situation at hand.

The people bearing the brunt of these challenges are the same people who were already at a disadvantage in the labor force: workers who never attended college.

New research on more than 700 occupations found that the types of jobs held by workers with only a high school education have become more difficult in recent years, which has sharply limited their job opportunities. The opposite is true for college graduates, whose jobs have gotten easier, opening up new opportunities for them.

“The changing nature of work over the past 15 years may have deepened inequality across educational groups,” according to the study funded by the U.S. Social Security Administration.

The data for this research came from an occupational database, as well as a one-time survey fielded by RAND in 2018 that asked workers to assess their current mix of natural abilities – as distinct from skills learned on the job – in four areas. The first area is cognitive abilities, which include communication and mathematical acuity. Physical abilities range from strength to flexibility. Sensory abilities include hearing and depth perception. Psychomotor refers to hand-eye coordination and fast reaction times.

The researchers first identified the abilities required to do more than 700 jobs held by the workers in the survey, as detailed in the federal government’s occupational database, and compared the current requirements with the 2003 requirements for each job.

The abilities required of workers with no more than a high school degree increased in all four categories. Construction workers are a good example. Their need for writing proficiency has increased dramatically. And today’s warehouse workers must move at breakneck speed to keep up with the sophisticated technology being used to fill orders for overnight delivery.

Contrast these workers to the college graduates, whose job requirements have lessened in three of the four categories. Only their need for sensory abilities, such as hearing and depth perception, has increased – and not by as much as the workers who didn’t go to college.

The researchers also found that the shifting job demands have very different implications for each group’s employment potential. …Learn More

People in a nursing home

People Don’t Save for a Nursing Home Stay

About 13 percent of the older people in a recent study – average age 74 – who were initially living independently moved into a nursing home within five years.

Perhaps because they know their vulnerabilities, their expectations of whether they would one day need nursing home care helped predict their actual nursing home use, the study found.

In fact, the researchers said, the accuracy of the predictions showed that the older people must have taken into account personal information that went beyond what was apparent in the 1998-2016 survey data used in the study, which included details about their health, ease of functioning, and other influences on whether they need care.

However, foresight did not translate into facing up to the financial implications of a nursing home stay.

Nursing homes are expensive, currently averaging $7,700 per month for a room that is shared with another resident. The 10 percent of older people with a private long-term care insurance policy can pay for their care. Poor people’s nursing home expenses are covered by Medicaid.

It’s the people who fall outside these two groups who aren’t always clear about how to pay for a nursing home stay if they need it. Their lack of preparation for this expense was underscored in another of the study’s findings: the people who say they’re more likely to go into a nursing home were no more likely to have built up their savings to pay for it.

Of course, Medicaid is also a backup plan for nursing home residents who start out paying for their care but run through all of their savings. This study helps to explain why Medicaid covers six in 10 nursing home residents.

To read this study, authored by Padmaja Ayyagari and Yang Wang, see “Nursing Home Use Expectations and Wealth Accumulation Among Older Adults.”Learn More

Two workers loading a truck

Who Applies for Disability – and Who Gets it

Blue-collar workers who end up applying for federal disability benefits find themselves in that position for a variety of interrelated reasons.

A dangerous or physically demanding job can either cause an injury or exacerbate a medical condition that could lead to a disability. And people with limited resources in childhood often develop health problems earlier in life, and their circumstances can limit their access to job opportunities, making them more likely to end up in dangerous or physically demanding jobs.

A new NBER study untangles all these factors to clarify who applies for disability and which applicants ultimately receive benefits through Social Security’s rigorous approval process.

Researchers at Stanford and the University of Wisconsin linked a survey of Americans 50 and older to occupational data describing the level of environmental and physical hazards they’ve faced during decades of working. Next, socioeconomic measures of their upbringing – the adults’ descriptions of their childhood health, education, and parents’ financial resources – were layered into the analysis. Finally, the researchers repeated the process, replacing childhood health with genetic data on their predispositions to various disabling illnesses.

Blue-collar and service workers are known to apply for federal disability benefits at higher rates than white-collar workers. But the researchers showed that low socioeconomic status in childhood – by limiting the options for less strenuous jobs – played an even bigger role than workplace demands in whether the workers applied for the benefits.

However, when it comes to who is approved for benefits, physical and mental job requirements were key – and socioeconomic status plays no role. This makes sense because the heart of Social Security’s approval process is a determination that a disabled person is unable to do his previous job or another job appropriate to his age and experience.

An applicants’ health is, by definition, always central to whether he qualifies for disability. The final step in the researchers’ analysis used genetic data to get a picture of the applicants’ underlying health – as distinct from the health problems originating from a disadvantaged childhood. …Learn More

Diverse Population Uses Nursing Homes Less

Son with father in wheel chair

Since the 1980s, the share of the U.S. population over 65 has grown steadily. At the same time, the share of low-income older people living in nursing homes has declined sharply.

New research by the University of Wisconsin’s Mary Hamman finds that this trend is, to some extent, being driven by an increasingly diverse population of Hispanic, Black, Asian, and Native Americans. They are more likely to live with an adult child or other caregiver than non-Hispanic whites, due, in some cases, to cultural preferences for multigenerational households.

Nursing home residence is also declining among older white Americans. However, in contrast to the Black population, whites are increasingly moving into assisted living facilities. This creates what Hamman calls a “potentially troubling pattern” of differences in living arrangements that might reflect disparities in access to assisted living care or perhaps discriminatory practices. Notably, the researcher finds that the Black-white gap in assisted living use persists even when she limits her analysis to higher-income adults.

Eight states have seen the biggest drops in nursing home use: Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee. Many of these states have experienced fast growth in their minority populations or have more generous state allocations of Medicaid funds for long-term care services delivered in the home.

Growing diversity is actually the second-biggest reason for lower nursing home residence, accounting for one-fifth of the decline, according to the study, which was funded by the U.S. Social Security Administration and is based on U.S. Census data.

As one might expect, the lion’s share of the decline – about two-thirds – is due to policy, specifically changes to Medicaid designed to encourage the home care that surveys show the elderly usually prefer. …Learn More