Posts Tagged "African-American"

Student Debt Plan Helps Black Retirees

For the sliver of retirees who are far behind in paying their own or their children’s student loans, Social Security can withhold part of their benefits to pay the loans back.

But college has gotten much more expensive since the baby boomers attended, and loan delinquencies are higher among working people and especially Black Americans. When today’s Black workers retire, their estimated household delinquency rate will be 5.4 percent – well more than double the rate for White and Hispanic retirees.

The question is how withholding Social Security benefits will impact the financial security of these future retirees. In cases where the federal government withholds some benefits, it garnishees the lesser of 15 percent of a delinquent borrower’s monthly retirement benefit or the amount of the benefit that exceeds $750 per month. Social Security’s average monthly benefit is currently $1,827.

The withholding practice would reduce working households’ retirement income in the future by an estimated average of 4 percent, according to the Center for Retirement Research.

Even this seemingly small decline in income can have a big impact on people who are struggling. The loss of retirement income will fall hardest on Black Americans, who are more likely to borrow for college but who earn less and will have more difficulty repaying their loans.

Whether the burden on retirees will be lightened could be determined by two lawsuits the U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear later this month challenging the Biden administration’s plan for student debt relief. If the court allows the administration to proceed, the government would extend up to $10,000 in student debt forgiveness to borrowers. Lower-income students who received Pell grants to subsidize college could receive an additional $10,000.

This financial relief would wipe out the debt for a significant share of borrowers and sharply reduce the delinquencies that trigger the withholding of Social Security benefits and can undermine retirement security, especially for minority borrowers who are more likely to receive Pell grants. …
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Yes, White Men’s Career Paths are Different

White men have the most success over the course of their lives in holding on to well-paying jobs that require high-level analytical abilities and interpersonal skills, a new study finds.

They have so much success that they often remain in this challenging non-routine work – astronomer, community college instructor, and analyst are examples – well into their 60s and even 70s. This isn’t the case for everyone else.

White women and also Asian-American men and women with college degrees also frequently start their careers in positions with demands that are similar to white men. But after they pass their prime working years, this type of work declines, in sharp contrast to white men’s career paths, the researchers found.

For example, the intensity of white women’s nonroutine cognitive work, as well as nonroutine interpersonal jobs like coach or education administrator, peaks around age 40 and then starts declining. At the same time, the intensity of the women’s routine cognitive tasks increase. This trend, which continues until they retire, might happen as older women are sidelined into less challenging office work.

The study, based on occupational data and a couple of long-running surveys of workers, accomplished two things. First, the researchers followed changes since 2004 in the nature of the overall job market. The intensity of the nonroutine tasks required to do a job, rated on a scale from low to high, has declined. But jobs requiring routine tasks have gained ground.

This doesn’t seem to jibe with well-known past research showing that people who do routine work are disproportionately being replaced by robots. But perhaps the prevalence of computers and artificial intelligence in the jobs that remain have increased routinization in many occupations. Reservation and ticket agents, telephone call center representatives, and medical transcriptionists are very high-intensity routine cognitive jobs.

The second part of the analysis showed that the evolution in job demands progresses very differently for various workers as they age and approach retirement.

The focus for Black and Hispanic men is on physical labor. The demands on all men doing manual jobs lessen over time as they lose physical strength. But the racial differences are clear. …Learn More

Suburban ‘Rent Deserts’ are a Problem

Boston, a city of fewer than 1 million people, is surrounded by layers and layers of suburbs linked to the city by subways, ferries, and a commuter rail. The suburbs’ opposition to a new state law requiring them to zone some land for apartments illustrates why U.S. rental housing is scarce and rents have soared.

The sprawling town of Hamilton, with 8,000 residents, told The Boston Globe that rental housing will “destroy the well-being of our community.” Other municipalities warn their schools, infrastructure, and police and fire departments will be overwhelmed by population increases or that they don’t have enough land to accommodate multifamily rental properties.

Not all of Boston’s suburbs are opposed to building more multifamily housing. Before the state law passed, the city of Newton had already started revamping its zoning regulations to encourage more rental properties around transit stops. But three out of four of the 23,000 lots in Newton are currently zoned for single family homes.

Suburban neighborhoods around the country account for more than two-thirds of “rental deserts,” according to a report by Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies. The deserts are mostly white and mostly higher-income, and less than 20 percent of their housing stock is rentals, compared to a range of 50 percent to 80 percent in areas with ample rental properties. Low inventories nationwide have fueled double-digit rent increases from Idaho to Florida.

In the city of Boston, house prices have skyrocketed, so suburbs with mass transit are somewhat more affordable for lower- and middle-income workers who commute downtown to their jobs. But rental deserts, with their “not-in-my-backyard politics” are “a significant factor in limiting opportunities for rental households and for lower-income renters in particular,” the housing center said. …Learn More

The Racial Roots of Retirement Inequality

Financial advisers and retirement experts say the best advice they can give workers to prepare for old age is to save, save, save.

But two young researchers might argue this advice isn’t sensitive to the hurdles that Black and Hispanic workers face when they try to save. At a recent panel discussion, the researchers presented a laundry list of the hurdles, which are harder for minority workers to clear and can be insurmountable.

One disadvantage is widely understood: people of color tend to be in lower-paying jobs overall and disproportionately work in the retail or the food service industries, which have irregular hours, high turnover, and wages that often depend on tips. Many of these jobs do not include employee health and retirement benefits, putting people of color at greater risk than White workers that their retirement income will fall short.

Dania Francis

Dania Francis

But the roots of retirement inequality run deeper and can be seen in the racial differences in intergenerational wealth – whether homeownership or a college education that leads to a good job – said Dania Francis, an economist at the University of Massachusetts Boston and a panelist at the event hosted by the university’s Pension Action Center.

White Americans, Francis said, are in a better position to retire because they receive inheritances at dramatically higher rates than Black and Hispanic Americans. She cited Federal Reserve data from 2010 through 2019: 42 percent of White households within 10 years of retiring had already received or expected to receive an inheritance from their parents.

The inheritance numbers were 14 percent for Black and 11 percent for Hispanic households.

White parents also provide money to their young adult children at higher rates to pay for investments in their future such as college or a down payment on a house, Francis said. And, she added, the lower wages earned by workers of color will also make it harder for them to ever “bridge that gap.”

Taha Choukhmane, an assistant professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management, agreed. But he pointed to the billions of dollars in retirement incentives built into a tax code that also favors White workers and “contributes to inequality.” …Learn More

Research to Look at Work, Retiring by Race

The racial disparities embedded in our work, retirement, and government systems will be front and center at the annual meeting of a national research consortium.

One of the presentations at the online meeting on Aug. 4 and 5 will explore the impact of wealth and income inequality on Black and Latinx workers at a time these populations are rapidly aging. The researchers are concerned with how their decisions about when to retire will impact their economic security.

Growing inequality “point[s] to greater risks of financial insecurity” for future Black and Latinx retirees, the researchers said.

Another paper will address a related topic: the differences, by race and ethnicity, in workers’ levels of knowledge about how Social Security benefits work. Understanding the ins and outs of the federal retirement benefit – and specifically the advantages of delaying retirement to get a larger monthly check – are critical to improving living standards in old age.

Other research will explore an area that hasn’t been well studied: government programs used by non-parental caregivers such as Black grandparents or members of Latinx three-generation households to support the children in their care. The researchers will examine minority and low-income workers’ and retirees’ use of SNAP food stamps, child care subsidies, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and various benefit programs overseen by Social Security.

COVID is another topic on the agenda. One study compares the financial impact of the pandemic on early retirement for different income groups with the patterns in the aftermath of the Great Recession more than a decade ago. Another study examines how mortality rates might change in the wake of the pandemic.

Research on many other topics will also be featured, including health insurance, mothers, and longevity. The agenda and information about registration are posted online. Registration is free. …Learn More

Economists Show Inequities’ Roots in Slavery

Conversations about the vast White-Black disparity in U.S. wealth may acknowledge its roots in slavery. But four economists have now made the case quantitatively by charting changes in the wealth gap since the Civil War.

The political and societal influences on wealth accumulation between 1860 and today are multifaceted but the basic trajectory is this:

The wealth gap shrank by roughly half during the Civil War era from 1860 to 1870 and dropped in half again between 1870 and 1920, the researchers said in their recent paper. The decades of improvements in Blacks’ per capita wealth, compared with Whites’, occurred despite a quick end to Reconstruction after the Civil War and the rise of Jim Crow laws around 1890 that curtailed recently freedmen’s rights in the South. (I’ll explain more about this counterintuitive finding below.)

Progress continued but was more modest after the 1920s and started stalling out around the 1950s. The situation deteriorated after the go-go-1980s on Wall Street as Black Americans’ wealth levels fell behind largely because they own much less stock and haven’t equally enjoyed the bull market gains of recent decades.

The wealth gap is so entrenched today, the study concluded, that reaching equality is “an extremely distant or even unattainable scenario.” …Learn More

Got a Retirement Plan? Race Plays a Role

The following statistic will sound familiar since I use it regularly: about half of U.S. workers are not saving enough and may see their standard of living drop when they retire.

A major culprit in this poor state of preparedness is that millions of Americans at any given moment don’t have a traditional pension or 401(k) savings plan at work.

A new study takes a close look at who these people are and shows stark differences along racial lines. A large majority of Hispanic workers in the private sector – two out of every three – do not have access to a pension or 401(k)-style plan, and more than half of Black workers do not have access. Although the numbers are lower for Asians (45 percent) and whites (42 percent), they are still substantial.

Other estimates of private sector coverage, also from this study by John Sabelhaus of the Brookings Institution, show big gaps between high- and low-paid workers and workers with and without college degrees, and at large and small employers.

Coverage also varies from state to state: In Pennsylvania, 41 percent lack access to a retirement plan, but in Florida, 59 percent do not have coverage.

Sabelhaus is certainly not the first to document disparities in retirement plan access for different demographic groups. But his methodology advanced the ball, resulting in more reliable estimates. By using three data sources, he could compensate for their shortcomings while taking advantage of the unique information in each one. He combined recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the IRS, and the Federal Reserve Board. …Learn More