Posts Tagged "baby boomer"

Explaining Social Security’s Earnings Test

The reduction in benefits for some people who collect Social Security while simultaneously working is frequently called a “tax.”

It is not a tax. Under a Social Security rule known as the Retirement Earnings Test (RET), some benefits are withheld if the worker earns above a certain level – $19,560 in 2022 – and has not yet reached his full retirement age under the program. At that age, the government starts paying the deferred benefits back incrementally.

As older workers plot a path to retirement, they should have a clear understanding of this financial impact. But a new study finds they have a poor grasp of the tradeoff that is the central feature of the RET: a smaller monthly check now, while they’re working, in return for a bigger check later.

Failing to understand this concept has real world consequences. Retirement experts encourage boomers to work as much as possible to improve their finances. But someone who doesn’t understand the RET might decide against working more to prevent a perceived benefit cut.

The researchers experimented with how to improve understanding of the RET by showing some 1,000 older workers numerous graphic representations of the financial impact. The best way to illustrate the study’s main finding – that a bar chart emphasizing the shift in benefits from now to later worked best – is to focus here on two pairs of blue bar graphs.

Some workers saw a simple bar graph (below, left) showing that the individual who fully retired at age 62 would receive a $1,000 monthly benefit for life. A second bar graph (below, right) showed a smaller benefit –  about $750 per month – for someone who started Social Security at 62 while he was still working. At 67, his full retirement age, the benefit jumps to about $1,100 when Social Security starts paying back the withheld amount.A second group of workers also saw the simple bar graph (above, left) of the 62-year-old retirees’ stable $1,000 benefit. But the second bar graph (below) illustrated the shift in benefits for a Social Security recipient who is still working.Learn More

Too Much Debt Taxes Baby Boomers’ Health

work related stress

Staying healthy is becoming a preoccupation for baby boomers as each new medical problem arises and the existing ones worsen.

The stress of having too much debt isn’t helping.

The older workers and retirees who carry debt are less healthy than the people who are debt free, and higher levels of debt have worse health effects, according to Urban Institute research. The type of debt matters too. Unsecured credit cards have more of an impact than secured debt – namely a mortgage backed by property.

Debt can erode an individual’s health in various ways. The stress of carrying a lot of debt has been shown to cause hypertension, depression, and overeating. And it can be a challenge for people to take proper care of themselves if they have onerous debt payments and can’t afford to buy health insurance or, if they are insured, pay the physician and drug copayments.

This is an issue, say researchers Stipica Mudrazija and Barbara Butrica, because the share of people over age 55 with debt and the dollar amount of their debts, adjusted for inflation, have been rising for years. In this population, increasing bankruptcies – a high-stress event – have been the fallout.

In an analysis of two decades of data comparing older workers and retirees with and without debt, the researchers found that having debt is tied to the borrowers’ declining self-evaluations of their mental and physical health. Older people who are in debt are also more likely to be obese, to have at least two diagnosed health conditions, or to suffer from dementia or various ailments that limit their ability to work.

The bulk of their debt is in the form of mortgages, which increasingly have strained household budgets in recent decades as home prices have outpaced incomes. Piled on top of the larger mortgage obligations can be payments for credit card debt, medical debt, car loans, and college loans – often for the boomers’ children. …Learn More

Boomers Lament Disappearance of Pensions

More than one of this blog’s readers said a recent article about 401(k)s was hardly revelatory. But it sure generated a lot of comments.

Ed McGrath wrote this about “Retirees with Pensions Slower to Spend 401(k):” “Well thank you for this Caption Obvious.”

Perhaps the article struck a nerve because baby boomers are the generation who mostly lost out on pensions. Nearly two-thirds of U.S. workers born in the 1920s through the 1940s – many of them parents of boomers – had pensions. But a measly 6 percent of boomers from the tail end of the wave have them.

Millennials and members of Generation Z usually wouldn’t even consider pensions in their retirement plans. But boomers at one time might’ve hoped or even expected to enjoy a retirement similar to their pensioned parents.

“I am a single woman, a former nurse, and not one job offered me a pension,” said Jennifer Lee, who is 67. “I am relying on my savings and Social Security as well as the equity in my home.” Lee expressed chagrin that a 60-year-old cousin – a rare boomer with a pension – has already “mailed in his retirement papers.”

Gumball MachineSeveral readers pointed out problems with a U.S. retirement system that increasingly relies on savings – leaving retirees to figure out how much to withdraw every year – as monthly pension checks have disappeared. Ken Pidock, quoting a financial journalist, said 401(k)s lack the reliability of pensions: “Forcing people of modest means to depend on the stock market for income to pay bills after they stop working is madness.”

Paul Brustowicz, a former insurance company employee in his late 70s, feels lucky to have the security that comes with a pension, along with his Social Security and some IRA funds he converted to an annuity. “The steady monthly income lets my wife rest easy at night,” he said.

But another reader, Brian Jarvis, has a different perspective on the generational pension divide. “Yes, my father had a traditional pension that I don’t have,” he said. But Jarvis and his wife built up an ample nest egg “that my parents couldn’t have dreamed of,” he said. “We’ll be in good shape for quite a while – the rest of our lives – even without our parents’ type of pensions.”

Unfortunately, not everyone is as prepared as Jarvis. About half of U.S. households aren’t saving enough to retire at the traditional age of 65, which puts them at risk of suffering a drop in their standard of living when they quit working and the paychecks stop. …Learn More

Retirees with Pensions Slower to Spend 401k

Retirees have long been reluctant to spend the money they’ve accumulated in their 401(k) savings plans. But it also used to be common for retirees to have a traditional pension to cover their regular expenses.

By the time the baby boomers came along, pensions were available to a dwindling minority of workers, and it isn’t entirely clear how much they’ll tap into their 401(k)s.

A new study quantifies the impact of this transformation in the U.S. retirement system, where traditional pensions are now found almost exclusively in the public sector. The conclusion, by the Center for Retirement Research, is that retired boomer households lacking a pension seem more likely to rapidly deplete the 401(k) savings they rely on, “leaving them with more risk that they will outlive their savings.”

Consider a simple example of the difference a pension makes. In the past, typical households that started retirement with a pension and $200,000 in 401(k)s and other financial assets had about $28,000 more at age 70 than their counterparts with $200,000 in assets but no pension. After age 75, the difference between the haves and have-nots widened to about $86,000.

For this analysis, the researchers used data on the retirement finances provided in a survey of older Americans, specifically the heads of households born between 1924 and 1953, which includes some of the earliest boomers.

The researchers also found that the pace at which these retirees spent their savings hinged on the percentage of wealth they held in the form of annuities, whether a pension, Social Security, or an insurance company annuity. The retirees who got more of their income from annuities depleted their savings more slowly.

Based on prior generations’ behavior, the researchers roughly estimated that boomers – given their lower pension coverage – are in danger of using up their financial assets at around age 85. This would leave them with little room in their budgets for a long life, a large unexpected medical bill, or an inheritance for their children.

Boomers probably shouldn’t assume then that their parents’ retirement experiences are a reliable indication of how they will fare.

To read this study, authored by Robert Siliciano and Gal Wettstein, see “Can the Drawdown Patterns of Earlier Cohorts Help Predict Boomers’ Behavior?”Learn More

Wandering into Retirement Worked for Him

Howard Gantman didn’t exactly have a plan for retirement. Rather, he wandered into it during the early months of COVID chaos.

Nevertheless, retirement is going better than he’d expected. Gantman, who read comic books and science fiction voraciously as a child, has rediscovered his passion. He joined a writing group on Zoom and is working on a science fiction novel of his own. (And no, he’s not disclosing the plot yet.)

“I’m happier doing this than I would’ve been if I’d continued to work. I really was ready for a change,” the Washington, D.C., resident said in a recent interview. “Aside from a gruesome virus that keeps on whacking us on the head, I feel more in control of my life.”

Howard Gantman

Howard Gantman

Retirement experts often warn baby boomers that planning for lifestyle changes before retiring is just as important as making certain one’s finances are in order. That’s the ideal. But not everyone who’s making the transition has a well-developed plan or takes a straight route to where they wind up.

Gantman, a former journalist and government and communications professional, had anticipated working until he was about 72. In March 2019, at age 67, he left his job at the Motion Picture Association during a staffing transition and started focusing on consulting and volunteer work while searching for a new job. In December, he had to go into the hospital for surgery to repair an aortic aneurysm and replace an aortic valve.

After the surgery, while he was recovering and doing some light consulting, COVID hit and his employment opportunities dried up.

He decided to get back into creative writing, something he had only dabbled in as a young, workaholic journalist and then government official. At first, he blogged about aging and thought about writing a memoir centered on his late-life transition. But that topic no longer seemed to strike the right tone with so many lives suddenly in turmoil around COVID.

That’s when his love of science fiction and fantasy pulled him back in. “I decided that’s it. That’s what I want to do,” he said about writing a novel. …Learn More

seniors in a retirement home

Medicaid to Help Fill Gap in Seniors’ Care

Two previous studies on long-term care reported in this blog estimated how many of today’s 65-year-olds today will require care for minimal, moderate, or severe levels of need as they age and how many have the financial resources to cover each level of care that might be required.

In the third and final study in this series, the Center for Retirement Research matched the specific levels of need each retiree is projected to have in the future with their resources to determine how many of them will fall short.

Among all retirees, 22 percent are expected to have minimal needs for care and 9 percent will lack the family and financial resources to cover it – in other words, just under half of the people in this group will fall short. The shortfall among people with moderate needs will be larger: the comparable figures are 38 percent of all retirees will be at this level and 21 percent of retirees will fall short. Finally, 24 percent of retirees are expected to have severe care needs – for at least five years – and 16 percent will fall short.

But there is another critical source of support: Medicaid. The researchers find that the joint federal-state program dramatically reduces the share of retirees with insufficient resources to cover their care.

Not everyone qualifies for Medicaid, however. Older Americans can get the funding if they meet two conditions. First, they must have a serious health issue, such as dementia or a physical or medical condition that limits their activity. Second, the program covers nursing homes only for retirees with little in the way of financial resources, either because they had lower-paying jobs and didn’t save or because they exhausted most of the retirement savings they had scraped together.

Medicaid and LTSS graphWhen Medicaid is added to the picture, the program makes a significant dent. Among the 65-year-olds who will need moderate care, the share of all retirees who lack the resources to cover it drops from 21 percent to 14 percent when Medicaid funding is included. Medicaid also reduces the burden on boomers who will need high levels of care: the share lacking adequate resources drops from 16 percent to 11 percent.

The researchers didn’t include Medicaid in the resources available to the 9 percent of retirees who will need only minimal help with chores like cleaning or grocery shopping. The program typically doesn’t pay for these services, though there has been movement in a handful of states and at the federal level to loosen the restrictions around housekeeping. …Learn More

Pain in different areas of the body

Opioids: Cause or Consequence of Disability?

Opioid painkillers are a double-edged sword for older workers. The medications allow them to keep working through their joint or back pain. But a slide into addiction would interfere with doing their jobs.

A new RAND study of workers over age 50 has identified some of the negative consequences of relying on opioids. Rather than promoting work, the researchers found that opioids can cause or exacerbate disabling health conditions, hindering users’ ability to work and making them increasingly dependent on federal disability benefits over time.

Bad results from opioid overuse may seem predictable, given that doctors prescribe them to people who are in worse physical condition in the first place. But older workers’ health is already in decline, just by virtue of their age, so it’s not always clear how, or to what extent, opioids are affecting them.

The researchers sorted this out using a 2009 survey of older Americans in the long-running Health and Retirement Study (HRS). They matched people who didn’t take the medications with similar people who did – similar in everything from their functional limitations and sociodemographics to their labor market histories. The HRS continued to interview both groups over the next decade, allowing the researchers to compare the opioids’ effects over a longer period than prior studies.

For example, although the opioid users and non-users were in similar health in 2008, things changed dramatically – and quickly – the researchers found. As early as 2012, the opioid users were significantly more likely to have developed a disabling condition that limited their work capacity.

Opioid use or abuse is linked to myriad health problems. Overuse can exacerbate autoimmune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis. Users also have less healthy lifestyles and are prone to infectious diseases and mental illness, and opioids can impair lung function. …Learn More