November 19, 2019
Social Security Eases Racial Disparities
Social Security is a major source of income for most retirees. It is even more important to blacks and Hispanics in a nation that is becoming increasingly diverse.
Social Security is helping to even out the racial and ethnic inequities in income and wealth that exist in the working population and continue in old age, according to a study by the Center for Retirement Research for the Retirement and Disability Research Consortium.
The researchers estimate how much Social Security reduces this inequality by comparing retirement wealth for white, black, and Hispanic-Americans.
Wealth is defined broadly to include obvious things like home equity and financial assets such as 401(k) retirement accounts, certificates of deposit, and money market accounts. In addition, the researchers converted the income that workers get from Social Security and defined benefit pensions into wealth by estimating the total value today of their future benefit checks.
The estimates of wealth, when Social Security is excluded, reveal enormous disparities. The typical white worker in his early- to mid-50s can expect to have about $177,000 in non-Social Security wealth in retirement, compared with just $24,000 for blacks – about a 7 to 1 ratio. Hispanics have $35,000 – or a 5 to 1 ratio.
These ratios improve dramatically, dropping to roughly 2 to 1 when Social Security is added in. The white worker has $378,000 in total wealth, compared with $173,000 for blacks and $186,000 for Hispanics.
Social Security’s progressive benefit formula reduces retirement inequality by replacing more of the income of lower-paid workers. The program also provides nearly universal coverage, whereas many workers do not have access to retirement plans at work. These features help black and Hispanic workers, who tend to have lower incomes and are also less likely to have retirement plans.
“Social Security is the most equal form of retirement wealth and the most important source for most minority households,” the researchers conclude. …Learn More
November 14, 2019
More Retirees Today Have a Mortgage
In one significant way, retirement is materially different than it used to be: far more retirees are still trying to pay off their houses.
Thirty years ago, just one of every four homeowners in their late 60s to late 70s still had a mortgage – today, nearly half do. Once people hit 80, mortgages used to be extremely rare – only 3 percent had them. Today, it’s one in four, Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies recently reported.
Retiree’s financial condition depends on much more than how much they spend on housing – in particular the size of their retirement savings accounts and Social Security checks. But rent or a mortgage payment is typically the largest item in the monthly budget. Being free of both can be a significant boost to one’s standard of living in retirement.
Jennifer Molinsky, a senior research associate at Harvard’s housing center, described several developments over the past three decades that may explain the dramatic increase in the share of retirees with mortgages.
First, she said, Americans today “seem to have less aversion to debt” than the generation that grew up after the Great Depression and was instilled with frugality. Although consumer debt levels always ebb and flow with the economy’s cycles, total debt as a percentage of disposable income is significantly higher today than it was in the 1990s. The 1986 tax reform act also made mortgages a more attractive form of debt to hold. The reform eliminated the income tax deductions for interest on credit cards and other types of consumer debt, with one exception: mortgage interest.
Having a mortgage isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Mortgage rates have fallen dramatically in recent decades. Many retirees who are still making monthly mortgage payments were able to reduce the payments by refinancing old, partially paid off mortgages into new 30-year loans with lower interest rates.
But another factor that may have pushed up the share of retirees with mortgages has been the long-term run-up in house prices, relative to earnings, which makes it increasingly difficult to pay off a house before retiring. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, house prices were about three times the typical household’s earnings, according to the housing center. Today, prices are more than four times earnings. …Learn More
November 12, 2019
From Disability to Low Retirement Income
By their early 60s, four out of five workers have chronic health problems. One in four has developed some type of physical or cognitive limitation.
If these problems force them to stop working, they can apply to Social Security for disability. But developing a disability late in a career still has long-term financial consequences. These workers not only give up their steady paychecks. Their preparations for retirement are also derailed at a critical time.
A 2018 study in the Journal of Disability and Policy Studies quantifies the financial fallout. Four groups were compared, each ranging in age from 67 to 69. One started receiving disability benefits sometime between 58 and 62. A second group went on disability between 62 and Social Security’s full retirement age, which is 66 for most boomers. The other two groups claimed their regular retirement benefits. One signed up between the earliest age allowed – 62 – and the full retirement age, and one started their benefits after the full retirement age, which yields a larger monthly check.
Where each of the four groups falls in a ranking of retirement incomes is easy to predict: the earlier a worker starts disability benefits, the less income he’ll have. Healthy retirees, on the other hand, enjoy big rewards from continuing to work, saving in a 401(k), accruing pension credits, and delaying Social Security.
Household income for the last group to retire was $76,000 per year at ages 67 to 69, with Social Security providing only about a third of it, according to researchers at Mathematica who conducted the study for the Disability Research Consortium. Households that claimed a retirement benefit between 62 and the full retirement age had $48,000 in income, with 45 percent supplied by Social Security.
The retirees who had been on disability were far worse off in their late 60s. If they started receiving the benefits between 62 and their full retirement age, they had only $36,000 in household income in their late 60s – not even half the income of the late retirees. Social Security retirement benefits were the largest source of income, supplying two-thirds of it. …Learn More
November 7, 2019
A Brighter Future for a Graying Workforce
Perceptions of older workers haven’t caught up with the reality of their increasingly prominent role in the labor force.
The federal Administration for Community Living reports that the U.S. population over age 60 has surged nearly 40 percent in just the past decade. By 2030, retirees will outnumber children for the first time in history, the U.S. Census Bureau predicts. The world population is on a similar path.
But in the face of this significant demographic shift, discriminatory views of older people persist in obvious and subtle ways. This discrimination colors coworkers’ beliefs about, among other things, older workers’ mental ability, efficiency, and competence on the job, according to one international review of studies on aging.
When people think about the future, “they fail to appreciate the potential that older workers present as workers and consumers,” Paul Irving, an expert on aging, writes in a special November edition of the Harvard Business Review exploring issues relevant to our aging workforce.
Research backs him up. Older people are living longer than past generations, which gives them more capacity to extend their work lives. They’re also generally healthier and enjoy more disability-free years, thanks to innovations like cataract surgery to restore their vision.
But ageism’s consequences are still apparent in the workplace. An Urban Institute report said that older workers, for a variety of reasons, are frequently pushed or nudged out of a long-term job at some point late in their careers. Some are forced into early retirement. And for those who do find another job, the new opportunities, while less stressful, are often a step down in terms of prestige and pay.
Irving, who is chairman of the Milken Institute’s Center for the Future of Aging, wants to chart a more hopeful path for our graying U.S. workforce, one that views it as an opportunity – rather than a looming crisis. …Learn More
November 5, 2019
401k Balances are Far Below Potential
If a 60-year-old baby boomer started saving consistently at the beginning of his career back in the 1980s, he would have some $364,000 in his 401(k)s and IRAs today.
How much does he actually have? One-fourth of that, according to a new study from the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College (CRR).
One obvious explanation for the enormous gap is that the 401(k) system was in its infancy in the 1980s, and it took time for employers to widely adopt the plans and for young adults to get into the habit of saving for retirement.
Another likely reason is the large share of workers who do not have any type of employer-sponsored retirement plan. This coverage gap, which predates the introduction of 401(k)s, persists today and leaves about half of private-sector workers without a plan at any given point in time.
And this gap isn’t just a problem for baby boomers. A majority of young workers are not saving in a retirement plan, despite their advantage of having entered the labor force after the 401(k) system was more mature. …Learn More
October 31, 2019
Boomers at 80: Housing Issues to Grow
The baby boom generation is continuing to work its way up the age ladder. The number of Americans over 80 will more than double to nearly 18 million over the next two decades.
And that’s partly because baby boomers are healthier and are living longer – they are also enjoying more of their retirement years free of disability than previous generations. But unfortunately, boomers can’t avoid the inevitability of their growing vulnerabilities and the impact this will have on their day-to-day lives. A new report by Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies makes some sobering predictions about the issues the oldest retirees can expect to face in the future, from widening income inequality to more people living alone and in isolation.
The findings, taken together, point to a range of potential trouble spots revolving around housing our aging population.
- As people get old, their spouses die, their bank accounts dwindle, and their rents keep rising. For these and other reasons, housing creates more of a cost burden at 80 than at 65. The Harvard housing center defines someone as cost-burdened if they spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing. Today, nearly 60 percent of households over 80 fit this definition, and their absolute numbers will increase as more baby boomers reach that age. One place the financial strain shows up is food budgets: retirees who spend disproportionate amounts on housing spend half as much on food as people whose housing costs are under control. …
October 29, 2019
People Tap IRAs After the Penalty Ends
Workers are apparently very eager to get their hands on the money in their retirement savings plans.
The evidence is the spike in withdrawals from IRA accounts that occurs soon after people turn 59½, the age at which the IRS’ 10 percent penalty on early withdrawals vanishes and is no longer a deterrent, according to a research study.
Average annual withdrawals from IRA accounts surge by about $1,965 to $3,540 – an 80 percent increase – after people cross the age 59½ threshold, according to the study, which was conducted for NBER’s Retirement Research Center by researchers at Stanford University, the University of Chicago, and the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.
Early withdrawals from tax-deferred retirement accounts – IRAs and 401(k)s – usually are not for frivolous reasons. This money tends to be tapped to ease financial hardships, such as unemployment, a disability, or a large, unexpected medical expense. But when older workers withdraw retirement funds – even for important matters – they may be chipping away at their financial security in old age. Withdrawals by high-income workers, on the other hand, will likely have little impact on their security.
The researchers analyzed taxpayer data from the IRS, which requires withdrawals to be reported at tax time. They compared withdrawals by people in the dataset for the two years before they turned 59½ with their withdrawals between 59½ and 60½.
While the penalty was in place, daily withdrawals were largely flat. But soon after people crossed the age 59½ threshold, withdrawals spiked before declining “to a new higher level than that of prior ages,” the researchers found. …Learn More