Posts Tagged "low-income worker"

How Long Can Low Wages Outrun Inflation?

Waitress serving family after the COVID reopeningFederal labor officials are giving Amazon employees in Alabama a second shot at forming a union, and their coworkers in Staten Island are seeking clearance to hold a vote. Americans, more confident of their employment prospects, are leaving their jobs in record numbers, with much of the activity in low-wage industries like hospitality.

Employers, having taken note, are combatting high quit rates and staff shortages by raising pay at the bottom of the wage scale. Also fueling the hikes has been a series of increases in state minimum wages, including automatic annual cost-of-living increases in a growing number of states.

Various economists, using different data sources, have reached a similar conclusion about these recent developments: pay for low-income workers – the same people who suffered the highest unemployment rates during the pandemic – is currently outpacing inflation.

It’s unclear whether that trend will continue in 2022, if, as some economists now predict, inflation becomes more persistent. The government will report December’s inflation rate tomorrow.

But between the third quarters of 2020 and 2021, Arindrajit Dube, at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, estimated that wage increases for workers in the bottom 30 percent of the pay scale outpaced inflation. Another economist, Geoffrey Sanzenbacher at Boston College, reached a similar finding: inflation-adjusted pay for people with earnings in the bottom 25 percent of all earnings rose last year while workers in the top 10 percent saw a decline.

When inflation first started picking up, economists said it would be a temporary blip that would ease when the goods piled up at West Coast ports started moving onto store shelves. But some economists are changing their tune and worry that high inflation will last longer than they’d predicted.

This would especially be a problem for low-wage workers, who spend most of their income on necessities. Rental housing is a good example. In a recent Federal Reserve survey, consumers estimated their rents would rise by 10 percent over the next year. An increase of this size would mark a new high for low-wage workers’ largest single expense – rent consumes more than half of their monthly income. …Learn More

The Problem with Low-Income Tax Credits

The federal tax code offers a nifty tax credit to low-income workers who save for retirement. If only it reached more people.

The Saver’s Credit offers what appears on its face to be a strong incentive: the IRS will return up to 50 percent of the amount low-income workers and married couples put into a retirement plan.

But Barbara Wollan, an 18-year volunteer in Iowa with the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program, or VITA, which provides free tax preparation to low-income workers, said her clients often don’t qualify. The reason: the tax credit is not what the IRS calls “fully refundable.”

For example, a single person earning $19,750 or less is eligible for a tax credit equal to 50 percent of the amount saved – the maximum retirement plan contribution eligible for the credit is $2,000. The credits are either 10 percent or 20 percent for single workers earning between $19,751 and $33,000. (The income limits are higher for households.)

The catch is that the credit is subtracted from the taxes owed, and low-income people usually pay little or no taxes to the IRS after they take the standard deduction given to all taxpayers. If they don’t owe taxes, they don’t get the credit.

“To dream big about helping low-income people save for retirement, we would make it a refundable credit,” said Wollan, an educator with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, which distributes research information in her state on topics like finance and agriculture.

Congress is considering providing a refundable credit of up to $500 to single and married savers even if they don’t owe anything at tax time. But lawmakers often get into a political disagreement about whether people who don’t pay taxes should get money back from the IRS.

Wollan feels her low-income clients should be rewarded for making what is, for them, a Herculean effort to save. “When I see that they have contributed to a 401(k) or other retirement account, I just want to jump up and down and cheer and pat them on the back,” she said. But “because their income is so low, they don’t get to take advantage of these credits, and that is so sad.” …Learn More

Not Everyone Can Delay their Retirement

Retirement experts encourage baby boomers to hang on to their jobs as long as possible to boost their monthly Social Security checks and add to their retirement savings. If they can delay retirement to age 70, they have good odds of maintaining their standard of living.

That isn’t always possible, however, for the baby boomers confronting disabling physical impairments or health problems. Add to that the generally declining health of the older population over the past 20 years.

Working to 67But a new study has revealed a deep socioeconomic divide. More-educated older workers are actually able to work longer than they did 15 years ago, while less-educated older workers – and Black men in particular – are mostly losing ground.

To estimate the changes in working life expectancy for various groups of older workers, Laura Quinby and Gal Wettstein at the Center for Retirement Research considered three factors: life expectancy overall, how long the workers can expect to remain free of a disability, and the rates of institutionalization in prisons and long-term care facilities. The incarceration rate is relevant, because the young adult men who received the longer prison sentences that started being imposed a couple of decades ago are now in their 50s and 60s.

Between 2006 and 2018, working life expectancy increased by about one year for older Black and white workers in the top half of the educational ranking. This makes sense because more educated people tend to be healthier and have seen stronger gains in their longevity.

But working life expectancy declined in the bottom half of the educational ranking for Black men and for white men and women. The exception is less-educated Black women – they have seen a small increase in working life expectancy, along with a more substantial increase in longevity.

The researchers also estimated the share of each group who, at age 62, could feasibly work until age 67, which would lock in their full retirement age benefit every month from Social Security, and until 70, which would provide them with their maximum monthly benefit.

A comparison of two extremes – more-educated white men and less-educated Black men – dramatizes the divide. …Learn More

Think of Saver’s Tax Credit as Free Money

Life’s unpleasant surprises – a new set of tires or a big vet bill – can get in the way of saving money for retirement. This is especially true for low-income workers.

But if they are able to save a little here and there, the federal government provides a very big assist through its Saver’s Credit. Unfortunately, low-income workers are also the least likely to be aware the tax credit exists.

Savers credit tableHere’s how the Saver’s Credit works. The IRS returns half of the amount saved over the year – up to certain limits – by a head of household earning less than $29,626 or a couple earning less than $39,501.

So, the head of household with earnings under the income limit who saves $2,000 in a tax-exempt retirement plan like an IRA or an employer 401(k) would get back the IRS’ maximum credit of $1,000. And the couple that saves $4,000 would get back the $2,000 maximum.

Piggy bankGranted, these are very large sums for low-income workers. But if they can manage to save a little bit every week, the Saver’s Credit is effectively free money from the federal government.

Smaller tax credits are available to people with slightly higher incomes. Individuals and couples do not qualify if they earn more than $49,500 and $66,000, respectively.

Unfortunately, only about a third of households earning under $50,000 are aware of the credit, according to a Transamerica Institute survey.

Now that you know, start saving. You’ll get a big chunk of it back. …Learn More