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Our Popular Blogs in the Year of COVID

2020 was a year like no other.

But despite the pandemic, most baby boomers’ finances emerged unscathed. The stock market rebounded smartly from its March nosedive. And the economy has improved, though it remains on shaky ground.

Our readers, having largely ridden out last spring’s disruptions, returned to a perennial issue of interest to them: retirement planning.

One of their favorite articles last year was “Unexpected Retirement Costs Can be Big.” So was “Changing Social Security: Who’s Affected,” which was about the toll that increasing the program’s earliest retirement age could take on blue-collar workers in physical jobs who don’t have the luxury of delaying retirement.

COVID-19 in the nation’s nursing homes has caused incomprehensible tragedy. A nursing home advocate explained how this happened in “How COVID-19 Spreads in Nursing Homes.” And the mounting death toll in nursing homes surely confirmed a longstanding preference among baby boomers – as documented in “Most Older Americans Age in their Homes.”

Despite the economy’s halting recovery, layoffs due to COVID-19 still “may be contributing to the jump in boomer retirements,” the Pew Research Center said. Pew estimates that 3.2 million more boomers retired last year than in 2019, far outpacing the increases in recent years.

The layoffs have no doubt forced some boomers to start their Social Security earlier than planned, as explained in “Social Security: Tapped more in Downturn” and “A Laid-off Boomer’s Retirement Plan 2.0.” But unemployed older workers who are still too young for retirement benefits might apply for disability insurance, according to a study described in “Disability Applications Spike in Recession.”

Baby boomers hoping to ease into retirement on their own terms liked a pair of articles about ongoing research by Harvard Business School professor Teresa Amabile: “Mapping Out a Fulfilling Retirement” and “Retirement is Liberating – and Hard Work.”

Other 2020 articles popular with our readers included: …Learn More

Covid vaccine ornament

A Splendid Holiday Gift: a Vaccine

Rather than look back on a bizarre and painful 2020, let’s look ahead to the bright side: a vaccine.

It is truly remarkable that top-notch scientists have been able to create several vaccines in record time. Producing and delivering them will be another hurdle, and questions remain about side effects and how long a vaccine will protect us. Many Americans’ reluctance to strictly adhere to public health standards will unfortunately slow our ability to put the virus completely behind us.

But scientists and public health officials seem confident the vaccines can eventually snuff out this once-in-a-lifetime pandemic.

Only then can we get back to our normal activities, such as traveling, eating at restaurants, and shopping – in person, rather than online. More important, increasing our consumer spending will give a shot in the arm to the economy and help put many Americans back to work after months of unemployment.

Have a joyful but subdued holiday – and enjoy the anticipation of a happier 2021!

Squared Away will return on Jan. 5 with a round-up of our readers’ favorite blogs in 2020.

Read our blog posts in our ongoing coverage of COVID-19.Learn More

Video Documents Nursing Home Tragedy

When COVID-19 started spreading through nursing homes last spring, the United States had no first-hand experience battling a coronavirus.

That’s a fair point but an inadequate explanation for a tragedy in which more than 100,000 nursing home residents and staff to date have died of COVID-related causes.

There is plenty of blame to go around. Governments either wouldn’t or couldn’t provide enough personal protective equipment, forcing the certified nursing assistants to don garbage bags and recycle masks. A shortage of tests limited the ability to detect asymptomatic cases and contain outbreaks. The Centers for Disease Control, prior to the pandemic, had documented poor infection control practices. This made nursing homes a petri dish for spreading the virus. Acute staffing shortages compounded the dangers.

This video by AARP is a chronology of what went wrong. It’s a horror story of panic, chaos, and blunders. It’s also a start on understanding how we can do better in the future to protect our most vulnerable population – the elderly.

“We need to continue to raise alarms and demand action to prevent anything like this from happening again,” said Bill Sweeney, a senior vice president of AARP.  AARP is a corporate partner of the Center for Retirement Research, which sponsors this blog.

Read our blog posts in our ongoing coverage of COVID-19.Learn More

Tax Form 1040

How Much Will Your Retirement Taxes Be?

Four out of five retired households will pay little or no income taxes. But the tax rates at the highest income levels are meaningful, averaging 11 percent of household income and as much as 23 percent at the very top.

These estimates come from a new analysis by the Center for Retirement Research that sheds light on a potentially important consideration that is often overlooked by people approaching retirement age.

The highest tax rates are paid by the highest-income households because they often withdraw money from 401(k)s and IRAs to supplement their Social Security benefits. They must also pay capital gains taxes when they sell stocks and bonds for a profit from their regular financial accounts.

Retirement Taxes ChartHouseholds with income in the top 20 percent have nearly $770,000, on average, in retirement savings and other financial assets – their taxes equal 11 percent of their total retirement income. However, limiting the households to the top 5 percent of the income distribution, the tax rate increases to 16 percent – and the top 1 percent pays 23 percent.

These estimates assume retirees start pulling money out of their taxable 401(k) and IRA accounts when the IRS’ required minimum distributions (RMDs) kick in at age 70 1/2 – this age will increase to 72 next year. The tax rates were very similar under alternate scenarios that assume retirees either start withdrawing savings prior to the RMD or buy an immediate annuity with a survivor’s benefit.

The tax estimates are based on data for older U.S. households with at least one recent retiree. The researchers first calculated their expected future lifetime income from Social Security, 401(k)s and other sources in each year. The future yearly tax payments were then estimated using a program that applies IRS rules and each state’s tax rules to the various types of retirement income.

The tax rates are their total tax bills as a percentage of their total income. …Learn More

Belongings on the lawn

Crisis for Renters Threatens to Get Worse

Many unemployed and underemployed workers have run out of options for paying the rent. The National Low Income Housing Coalition, the Aspen Institute, and other organizations estimate that up to 40 million renters risk being evicted this winter. Congress is currently negotiating a new COVID-19 relief package but it’s not yet known whether it will extend a CDC moratorium on evictions or go beyond the Cares Act last spring and provide rental assistance to help renters and, by extension, their landlords.

Squared Away spoke with Sarah Saadian, vice president of public policy for the National Low Income Housing Coalition, about what she describes as an impending calamity.

Q: How bad is the current situation?

Saadian: It’s really hard to get data on how many people have been evicted because there isn’t a national database – only state data. But we know that nearly one in five renters are behind on their rent, and they’re disproportionately Black and brown renters. When the CDC moratorium on evictions expires Dec. 31, renters are going to owe somewhere between $25 billion and $70 billion. That’s a huge amount of back rent that renters realistically can’t afford to pay off. So what we’re likely to see is a huge increase in evictions and, in the worse cases, homelessness unless Congress extends the moratorium and provides really robust resources for emergency rental assistance.

Q: What do you expect if the moratorium isn’t extended beyond Dec. 31?

It would be a calamity. Because of the loopholes in the CDC moratorium and because of the sheer amount of rent renters owe, if there’s any gap between when the moratorium expires and the Biden administration takes action – if they do – you’re going to see potentially millions of people lose their homes in the dead of winter when we’re dealing with a resurgence of COVID. It’s an emergency on top of an emergency.

Q: A UCLA study said that 44 states had moratoriums but that 27 have lifted them and that the resulting evictions have resulted in more than 10,000 deaths. Make the connection between housing and health.

When low-income people are evicted from their homes, they don’t have a lot of good options. They either are doubling or tripling up with other families, or they go into homeless shelters. In either case, it’s more difficult to social distance, and it’s easier for the virus to spread. If Congress doesn’t take action, it harms all of us. Not only does it mean more of us dying from COVID but it puts more strain on our health care system. 

Q: This is a complicated issue, because small landlords have to pay their mortgages and can’t necessarily afford to cover tenants’ rents. What is your position on that?

The best solution for both renters and landlords is emergency rental assistance because that eliminates the back rent renters owe and makes up the lost income landlords need to operate their property. It is not every day that landlords and renters can agree. A lot of landlords don’t like the moratorium but it’s absolutely essential to have an extension of the CDC moratorium at least until state and local governments can distribute rental money to people in need. Even if Congress provides emergency rental assistance, but doesn’t extend the CDC moratorium, then millions of people will still lose their homes.

Q: You mentioned minorities are particularly affected by evictions. How about particular states or income groups? Rural vs urban renters? Learn More

Affordable Care Act Indirectly Affects SSI

Disabled man in physical therapy

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) requires that insurance companies offer coverage to young adults with disabilities – like all young people – through their parents’ employer coverage until age 26.

So, up to this point, many adults with disabilities now have a viable way to get health services, independent of any government assistance. But at 26, that changes.

A Mathematica study finds that’s when some start applying to the federal Supplemental Security Income Program (SSI) – probably partly to gain access to Medicaid health coverage. Health insurance is critically important to people with disabilities, who often need expensive, specialized medical services. SSI’s purpose is to provide monthly cash assistance for living expenses if they lack financial resources and don’t have the work history required for federal disability insurance. SSI recipients also qualify automatically for Medicaid in a majority of states.

The researchers examined the trends in applications to SSI by people in their 20s before and after the Affordable Care Act’s 2010 passage. They found that the annual application rates among people right around their 26th birthdays have recently been 3.4 percent higher than what would be expected based on the steady pattern of overall age trends. This jump in applications at age 26 was not evident before the ACA – when people tended to lose parental insurance earlier in their 20s.

The number of SSI applications that were approved was also somewhat higher, according to the study, which was funded by the U.S. Social Security Administration.

The risk to young adults who go on SSI, the researchers said, is that they might develop a long-term dependence on the program’s cash assistance and Medicaid. And this, in turn, could discourage people with less severe disabilities from trying to work at a critical point in their lives, because SSI strictly limits how much money its recipients can earn. …Learn More

Video: Young Adults Share Career Setbacks

More than half of young adults are now living with their parents – the highest level in more than a century, according to the Pew Research Center.

This alarming statistic, first featured in a September blog, is the result of a long-term trend that has accelerated during the economic slowdown caused by COVID-19.

In this PBS NewsHour video by Catherine Rampell, young adults 24 to 39 years old who are taking refuge in their parents’ homes talked about their stalled social lives and disrupted careers – their disappointments always tinged with a sense of humor.

They include Marcellus Adams, who was laid off from two jobs, as an auto mechanic and emergency room staffer, and, at 29, has never really lived on his own. Eric Rivera moved from the height of chic – an apartment in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn – to his parents’ home in a suburb of Trenton, New Jersey. And comedienne Nikki Glaser’s white-hot career suddenly cooled when her shows were canceled due to the pandemic.

They and millions of Millenials and members of Generation Z may pay a price for their setbacks in the form of lower earnings and unplanned-for career trajectories.

But a vaccine is coming, they are young, and they will persist.

Read our blog posts in our ongoing coverage of COVID-19.Learn More