Posts Tagged "health"

2021 art

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

How Long Will You Live? Try This

How often do you eat red meat? Do you exercise regularly? Cancer in your family? Did you go to college?

These questions – among the varied and complex predictors of longevity – are packed into a calculator that will estimate how long you could live. The calculator was created by Dr. Thomas Perls, an expert on longevity and the genetics of aging at Boston University.

Articles about the links between longevity and diet and lifestyle are perennial fodder for the popular press and health magazines. But Dr. Perls’ research dives deeper – into genetics.

In his work with geneticists, statisticians and computer scientists, he has studied the connections between genetics and people with exceptional longevity – nonagenerians (people living into their 90s), centenarians (living past 100), and super-centenarians (living past 110). His research has predicted, with a high level of accuracy, who makes it to the most advanced old ages based on hundreds of their genetic markers.

An interesting finding for women’s longevity involves the age their children were born: “Twenty percent of female centenarians had children after the age of 40 compared with 5 percent of [all] women from their birth cohort,” according to Dr. Perls.

His calculator also asks about attitude, specifically whether you’re aging well or dreading old age. Indeed, some research has found that optimism may contribute to a long life. Ike Newcomer, who was 107 when AARP shot the above video a few years ago, revealed a sunny disposition.

“I can’t really think of which was my best day,” Newcomer said. “They were all good.”

Dr. Perls’ calculator gave me some good news – I could live to 95. It would be nice if I take after my maternal grandmother, two of her brothers, my maternal great grandfather and a couple of great great aunts. All of them lived well into their 90s.

How long will you live? It takes just a few minutes to use the calculator – try it, if you dare. …Learn More

Man building a house

Changing Social Security: Who’s Affected

Due to the strength and agility required for physical labor, half of blue-collar workers sign up for Social Security as soon as they’re eligible – at age 62.

But a large majority of white-collar workers wait so they can lock in a larger monthly check for retirement.

White-collar vs Blue-collar age 62In a new study, Lindsay Jacobs at the University of Wisconsin found that blue- and white-collar workers would also respond very differently to potential increases in the program’s two benchmark ages: the earliest eligibility age and the full retirement age.

Raising the earliest eligibility age to 64 would not change retirees’ lifetime benefits. But a two-year hike in the full retirement age would amount to a significant benefit cut – and with the depletion of Social Security’s trust fund projected for 2035, some version of this change might one day be considered.

The first change – raising Social Security’s earliest claiming age – would require a much bigger adjustment by blue-collar workers. Jacobs predicted that this group would respond by working an extra year, on average, compared with a few more months for white-collar workers.

Requiring workers to wait longer for their benefits does have a financial advantage: a larger Social Security check every month. The problem for some blue-collar workers is that they couldn’t make it to 64. One result, then, is that increasing the early retirement age would push up applications to Social Security’s disability program, according to the study funded by the Retirement and Disability Research Consortium.

Jacobs gauged the impact of raising the early retirement age based on how quickly workers’ declining health would affect their ability to work as they age. To understand how they would react to raising the full retirement age, she examined how workers’ decisions about retiring, saving, and signing up for Social Security would change under various policies. She classified the workers as blue- or white-collar using data that describes job tasks to show that the physical demands at work influence these decisions.

The second possible change would increase the full retirement age by two years, which amounts to an across-the-board cut in benefits regardless of when workers claim them. In response, white-collar workers, who are already more inclined to hold out until the full retirement age, would be more likely to work even longer to reach the new, higher benchmark age.

But blue-collar workers would bear the brunt of the benefit cuts, because their physically demanding jobs would often prevent them from working longer to offset the cuts. …
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Depressed woman

Why the Mix of Disabilities is Changing

The mix of disabilities for people receiving federal disability insurance has changed in important ways that often reflect trends in the health of the population as a whole.

Two disabling conditions that have become a growing share of Social Security’s benefit awards in recent decades are mood disorders and various musculoskeletal problems, which include arthritis and back pain.

First, consider mood disorders. They range from depression and bipolar disorder to irritability and seasonal affective disorder, and they can hamper someone’s ability to work. Mirroring the rising share of awards for mood disorders, their prevalence in the population has edged up from 54.6 percent of adults in 1997 to 56.2 percent in 2017, according to a study by Mathematica, a research organization.

Second, disability awards to people with musculoskeletal problems like arthritis and back pain have increased dramatically. These conditions are often aggravated by carrying excess weight, so the rise in cases aligns with the researchers’ estimate that the adult obesity rate has surged from about 20 percent to 31 percent. 

But a related finding about musculoskeletal conditions is more difficult to explain. Despite the growth in disability awards involving these conditions, the share of the population afflicted by them – about a third – hasn’t changed much, according to the study, which was conducted for the Retirement and Disability Research Consortium.

The researchers found one clue to this apparent contradiction in a separate analysis indicating that this population’s ability to work may be deteriorating over time. …Learn More

Retirement Research Presented Virtually

A video call

Like much in life under a pandemic, the research presentations for the Retirement and Disability Research Consortium’s annual meeting are going virtual.

This year’s online meeting will also be scaled down from the traditional two days to one: Thursday, Aug. 6.

The purpose of the meeting, which is usually held in Washington, D.C., is for academics from universities and think tanks to describe their latest research to colleagues, policy experts, financial professionals, and the press. Topics this year will include taxes in retirement, federal disability insurance, housing, health, and labor markets. The U.S. Social Security Administration has funded the research and is sponsoring the meeting.

The agenda and information about registration are available online, and participants can register anytime. Questions for the researchers can be submitted during the presentations via a moderator.

One fresh idea being explored this year is taxes in retirement. Taxes are central to whether retirees have enough money to cover their essential expenses, but households that are approaching retirement age may not factor the need to pay federal and state taxes into their planning. Despite the importance of this issue, only a handful of existing studies have tried to estimate the tax burden. This paper fills the gap.

One session will feature a pair of papers looking at whether cognitive decline has a detrimental effect on older Americans’ finances. One will explore whether dementia leads to financial problems overall, and the other will focus exclusively on debt.

Researchers will also try to resolve a conundrum in the disability field: why are applications for federal benefits declining at the same time that Americans’ health is deteriorating? One hypothesis is that jobs are becoming less physically demanding. A second disability study will produce a publicly available database for researchers who want to examine the local factors affecting applications.

The agenda lists all of the papers that will be presented. Learn More

Crowd of people

Readers Lament Decline in Boomer Health

The share of people in their late 50s with the second most severe form of obesity has tripled since the early 1990s. This grim fact, featured in a recent Squared Away article, clarifies COVID-19’s danger to older Americans.

The article, “Our Parents Were Healthier at Ages 54-60,” summarized research establishing that baby boomers are less healthy than their parents’ generation due to several conditions related to obesity, including diabetes, pain levels, and difficulty performing daily activities. The poorest Americans’ health deteriorated the fastest – and COVID-19 is preying on them.

“This decline in markers of metabolic health seems to correlate with increased vulnerability to the pandemic,” wrote one reader, Dan O’Brien, who was among several who commented on recent health-related blogs.

That’s what happened during the H1N1 flu pandemic in 2009. Hospitalizations – and possibly death rates – were tied to obesity in adults with multiple health conditions, according to the National Institutes of Health.

“The vast majority of [COVID-19 patients] who reach the ICU suffer from comorbidities. My takeaway is that metabolic dysfunction is tied to immune-system failure in ways we don’t yet understand,” O’Brien said.

Another reader, Lorraine Porto, advocated a simple way for people to keep their weight in check: walk. An elderly woman she knows “walked miles every week.” Porto believes this healthy habit saved the woman’s life when she broke her hip in her 80s and was “walking around, sprightly as ever, less than two months later.” The woman lived into her 90s, Porto said.

A second health-related blog popular with readers looked at the unexpected costs of treating medical conditions that become more common in old age.

Older workers and retirees who try to anticipate their future medical expenses might feel a bit like they’re throwing a dart at a dartboard. The researchers did the work for them in a study described in the blog, “Unexpected Retirement Costs Can be Big.” …Learn More

Art of someone gaining weight

Our Parents Were Healthier at Ages 54-60

Baby boomers aren’t as healthy as their parents were at the same age.

This sobering finding comes out of a RAND study that took a series of snapshots over a 24-year period of the health status of Americans when they were between the ages of 54 and 60.

The researchers found that overall health has deteriorated in this age group, and they identified the specific conditions that are getting worse, including diabetes, pain levels, and difficulty performing routine daily activities.

Obesity is an overarching problem: the share of people in this age group with class II obesity, which puts them at very high risk of diabetes, tripled to 15 percent between 1992 and 2016.

In addition to declining health, the study for the Retirement and Disability Research Consortium uncovered strong evidence of growing health disparities among 54 to 60-year-olds: the poorest people are getting sicker faster than people with more wealth.

The increase in women’s pain levels has been starkest over the past 24 years. The wealthiest women have seen an increase of 6 percentage points in the share experiencing moderate to severe pain from conditions like joint or back pain. But the poorest women saw a 21-point leap. The disparity for men was also large: up 7 points for the wealthiest men versus 15 points for the poorest men.

The bottom line: today’s 54 to 60-year-olds are not as healthy as their parents were, and the study suggests that the disparities between rich and poor will continue to grow.

To read this study, authored by Peter Hudomiet, Michael D. Hurd, and Susann Rohwedder, see “Trends in Health and Mortality in the United States.”Learn More