March 2, 2021
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
February 25, 2021
Diverse Population Uses Nursing Homes Less
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
February 23, 2021
Converting a Desire to Save into Saving
Save. Budget. Spend less on takeout.
“We know what we need to do,” financial behavior expert Wendy De La Rosa says. “The question is how to do it.”
Consider one of the pandemic’s lessons for workers: it’s important to build up an emergency fund for a potential financial catastrophe. But how to translate that into action?
De La Rosa, who founded the Common Cents Lab to help low-income workers manage their limited resources, has conducted research showing that people can overcome the psychological barriers to saving by changing the financial cues around them.
In this Ted video, she provides three practical tips, one of which she applied to her own life. After spending $2,000 in a single month on a ride-sharing app in Manhattan – “death by 1,000 cuts” – she vowed not to do it again. She did it again anyway.
So, she changed her financial cues. She deleted the credit card attached to her app and linked the app to a debit card with a $300 limit per month.
To change behavior, De La Rosa said, “change the decision-making environment.” …Learn More
February 18, 2021
Big Picture Helps with Retirement Finances
The prospect of retiring opens a Pandora’s box of questions. But one big question dominates all the others: How will I manage my finances when I retire?
This is a vexing problem, and baby boomers could use some help thinking it through. To ease the process, a team at UCLA and Cornell University led by David Zimmerman, a UCLA doctoral student, created an online decision tool. In an experiment, they found that the tool might help future retirees understand how to smooth out their income over many years and make their savings last.
The results are preliminary, and the researchers are refining their analysis. But for the initial experiment, they recruited 400 people, ages 40 through 63. The participants were instructed to use the tool to make three big retirement decisions: starting Social Security, choosing a 401(k)-withdrawal strategy, and deciding whether to purchase an annuity. Their decisions would be on behalf of a 60-year-old who is single and plans to retire in two years. He earns $55,000 and has $250,000 in savings to work with.
The participants were split into two comparison groups. One group received immediate feedback on the impact of each separate decision. For example, when the participants picked a Social Security starting age for the hypothetical person, a chart showed a horizontal line tracking the fixed annual benefit locked in by that decision.
When they moved on to another page and selected a plan for 401(k) withdrawals, a chart showed the age when the savings would probably run out. The final decision was whether to buy a deferred annuity with some portion, or all, of the 401(k) assets. The chart on this page displayed the fixed income the annuity would generate every year for as long as the person lives.
The participants were encouraged to change their decisions as much as they liked to see how a change affected that particular source of income. But the researchers suspected that seeing each decision in isolation doesn’t help to clarify how various decisions work together to determine total retirement income over time.
So, the second group got to see the big picture. The chart in this case displayed the impact of any single decision on the annual income from all sources. …Learn More
February 16, 2021
Where Will You Retire? This Might Help
The toughest part of Paul and Cathy Brustowicz’s decision to relocate from New Jersey to Summerville, South Carolina, was leaving behind their two grandchildren. The retirees also miss the theater and dinners in Manhattan.
A big advantage of South Carolina, though, is “more house for the money,” Paul Brustowicz said. The couple also had a few old friends who were already living there, and the warm weather is nice, though it, too, involves a tradeoff: high summer humidity and hurricane season. As for amenities, it’s a quick drive to Charleston for dinner, the airport, and the Medical University of South Carolina.
“Overall, it was the right move for us,” he said about the 2012 relocation.
South Carolina ranked a very respectable 14th in WalletHub’s 2021 report on the best and worst states to retire. New Jersey, on the other hand, is squarely in last place because of its steep cost of living.
Also at the bottom of the ranking are New York – another very high-cost state – and Mississippi, which is ranked as having a subpar health care system.
Wallet Hub’s 50-state rankings are based on three categories: affordability, quality of life, and health care. A chart displays each state’s ranking overall and in each category.
Florida, with its year-round sun, golf, and very large retiree community, came out on top. Housing is a relative bargain there, and taxes are low. The tradeoff is the state’s mediocre health care system.
After Florida comes Colorado, which gets high marks all around, and Delaware, which is an affordable retirement spot. …Learn More
February 11, 2021
Billionaires Got Much Richer in Pandemic
In the COVID-19 downturn, this blog has had a steady supply of stories and statistics about the damage being done to low-income and middle-class families.
That’s one perspective on the pandemic. The growing billionaire class is another one.
Since last March, the nation’s 660 billionaires have added more than $1 trillion to their wealth – a 39 percent increase. Their combined net worth is now $4 trillion, which is nearly double the $2 trillion held by the 165 million Americans in the bottom half, according to the Institute for Policy Studies’ new report.
“It’s a troubling sign that too much of society’s wealth and income is flowing upwards to that small group of people,” Chuck Collins of the Institute for Policy Studies said during an interview on NPR’s Fresh Air.
The institute’s report is based on Forbes magazine’s annual estimates of the net worth of the world’s richest people.
Inequality has always been with us, but economists say it has grown as billionaires’ wealth has hit stratospheric levels.
To be sure, inequality would’ve been worse without the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The $500 billion in direct assistance to families last spring prevented a surge in poverty, and the relief bill passed in late December is sending more aid to unemployed and under-employed people who need it.
The billionaires are getting richer for a couple reasons, starting with a surprisingly strong stock market in 2020. Despite the worst public health crisis in a century and a struggling economy, the Standard & Poor’s 500 stock index shot up 18 percent.
But some billionaires were also in the right place at the right time – a pandemic. …Learn More
February 9, 2021
Readers See Pros, Cons to Paid-off Mortgage
Baby boomers love to discuss this age-old question: Should I pay off the mortgage before retiring?
Our blog readers fell into two camps in their comments on a recent article.
Some made an emotional argument – that a mortgage-free retirement makes them feel secure. The other camp argued that paying off the mortgage does not make financial sense.
The article, “Boomers Repairing their Mortgage Finances,” described research showing that boomers have sharply cut what they owe on their mortgages by paying extra in the years since the housing market bust. People naturally pay more of this debt as they age. But the boomers’ rapid payoffs partly explain why 40 percent to 50 percent of Americans in their 60s no longer have a mortgage, wiping out what is often a retiree’s largest single expense.
Despite the recent payoffs, boomers still trail their parents. Roughly 80 percent of the homeowners born in the 1930s had paid off their home loans by the same age, according to Jason Fichtner’s analysis for the Center for Financial Security at the University of Wisconsin.
As for whether to pay off the mortgage, many boomers don’t have that luxury. After the wave of foreclosures a decade ago, Fichtner found, the homeownership rate for 60-something boomers quickly slid more than 10 percentage points, to around 65 percent. The U.S. homeownership rate has increased in recent years but is still below the pre-recession peak.
The financial argument against paying off the mortgage was made in a blog comment by Tony Webb, a research economist at The New School. “At current interest rates and anticipated inflation rates, mortgage borrowing is almost free,” he wrote.
“All but the most risk-averse should load up on money while it’s on sale,” he said. [Full disclosure: Webb used to work at the Center for Retirement Research, which sponsors this blog.]
Another reader, Beth, said paying off the mortgage “is one cornerstone of a worry-free retirement.” However, she knows “several financially savvy people who for various valid reasons have not paid off their homes.” …Learn More