February 18, 2020
Electric Bills and Financial Survival
Timing is everything for low-income people who rely on federal benefits to survive.
For example, retirees who receive their Social Security checks early in the month and spend the money before the bills come in are more prone to fill the gap with high-cost payday loans than people who get their checks a few weeks later, a 2018 study found. New research in a similar vein shows that timing also matters for individuals who receive food aid under the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.
When the electricity bill arrives on or within a day of the monthly SNAP benefit, the lowest-income customers in this study were much less likely to have a past due bill or to have their power cut off than customers whose bills arrive well after their benefits.
The timing is crucial, because SNAP supplies between 10 percent and 25 percent of household incomes up to 35 percent above the federal poverty level. When the government loads each month’s food benefit onto the card, it frees up money for high-priority bills coming due at the same time, including utilities.
This study took place in an unidentified New England state where recipients’ SNAP debit cards are refilled on the first day of every month.
After following the SNAP recipients for a full year, the researchers also found that the unpaid balances they had accumulated after 12 months were smaller if the bills coincided with the SNAP-card deposits. The advantages of a well-timed electricity bill were greatest in the poorest neighborhoods, the researchers said. …
October 1, 2019
Financial Survival of Low-Income Disabled
A monthly disability check from the federal government is a lifeline for poor and low-income persons with disabilities, but they still face a daily struggle to meet their basic needs and cover their expenses.
In in-depth interviews, 35 low-income people in Worcester, Massachusetts, described how they make ends meet on the disability benefit they get from Social Security, which averages $912 a month and is their largest source of income. Another $300 comes from other forms of public assistance, family support, or minimum-wage jobs, according to a new issue brief by Mathematica’s Center for Studying Disability Policy.
The daily struggles that each individual faces are as unique as they are. Here are a few excerpts from the study:
“My rent is subsidized. Plus I work 20 hours a week which is pretty good. I bring home more than one hundred something dollars a week and I get a few dollars in food stamps. So it’s okay.”
“I’m stringing it, managing it, and just barely staying above water. I’ve been treading that water for a long time.”
“My situation is challenging. I sometimes just don’t have enough coming in to make what’s going out.”
Three out of four people in the study told interviewers that they find it very difficult to pay for their housing, food and other basic expenses. A bright spot is that people on federal disability insurance (DI) are also covered by Medicare and/or Medicaid and spend very little on medical care. “I’m getting everything I need,” one individual said about her healthcare. …Learn More
July 25, 2019
1 of 3 in Bankruptcy Have College Debt
One thing bankruptcy won’t fix is college debt, which – in contrast to credit cards – can’t usually be discharged by the courts.
One in three low-income people who have filed for bankruptcy protection from their creditors have student loans and face this predicament, according to LendEdu, a financial website.
The debt relief they can get from the courts is very limited, because the aggregate value of their non-dischargeable college loans is almost equal in value to all of their other debts combined, including credit cards, medical bills, and car loans.
Under these circumstances, a bankruptcy filing “does not sound like a financial restart,” said Mike Brown, a LendEdu blogger.
Although LendEdu analyzed data for low-income bankruptcy filers, the court’s inflexibility around student loans affects a wider swath of college-educated bankruptcy filers.
In the past, individuals were permitted to use bankruptcy to reduce their college loans. But in 1998, Congress eliminated that option unless borrowers could show they were under “undue hardship,” a legal standard that is notoriously difficult to satisfy.
While the legal requirement hasn’t changed since 1998, paying for college has become far more onerous. Americans today owe nearly $1.6 trillion in student debt, which ranks second only to outstanding mortgages. …Learn More
December 13, 2018
Reducing Poverty for Our Oldest Retirees
With more Americans today living into their 80s and beyond, the elderly are becoming more vulnerable to slipping into poverty.
To reduce the poverty risk facing the oldest retirees, some policy experts have proposed increasing Social Security benefits for everyone at age 85. Under one common proposal analyzed by the Center for Retirement Research in a new report, the current benefit at this age would increase by
The poverty rate for people over 85 is 12 percent, compared with 8 percent for new retirees. But more elderly people may actually be living on the edge, because the income levels that define poverty for them are so low: less than $11,757 for a single person and less than $14,817 for couples.
One reason the oldest retirees are especially vulnerable is that their medical expenses are rising as their health is deteriorating, yet they’re too old to defray the expense by working. This is occurring at the same time that the value of their employer pensions – if they have one – has been severely eroded by inflation after many years of retirement.
Further, elderly women are more likely to be poor than men, because wives usually outlive their husbands, which triggers a big drop in income that is generally not fully offset by a drop in their expenses.
Limiting the 5 percent benefit increase to the oldest retirees would ease poverty while containing the cost. …Learn More
November 1, 2018
US Inequality is Feeding on Itself
The fact that the richest Americans are grabbing such a big slice of the pie isn’t exactly breaking news.
What is news is that Wall Street is getting nervous about it. Moody’s Investors Service, a private watchdog for the federal government’s fiscal soundness, has concluded that inequality has reached the point that it threatens a system already being strained by increases in the federal debt. But Moody’s also noted that inequality is contributing to slower economic growth, which further aggravates inequality.
The high level of U.S. inequality today “sets us apart” from Canada, Australia, and several European countries, Moody’s said in an October report, “Widening Income Inequality Will Weigh on U.S. Credit Profile.”
Moody’s central concern is how inequality will affect the federal budget. When the economy slows in periods of high inequality, there are more lower-income households requiring support from costly programs like Medicaid. Federal tax revenues also decline during any downturn, leaving less money to pay for these means-tested programs and for social insurance programs like Social Security and Medicare.
The firm’s second concern is that inequality is a drag on the economy. When the middle-class is squeezed, for example, they have less money to buy consumer goods. And when the economy slows down, inequality can increase, as it did in the years after the 2008-2009 recession.
This has played out in a widening wealth gap, Moody’s said. The typical lower and middle-income worker’s net worth – assets minus liabilities – has shrunk since the recession, while net worth rose sharply for the people at the top.
One big reason for widening inequality is the stock market. Even though the market declined sharply this month, the post-recession bull market has beefed up investment portfolios – but only for the 50 percent of Americans who own company shares or stock mutual funds.
A second contribution to a widening wealth gap, post-recession, has been housing. A home is often the most valuable asset people own, so the steep drop in house prices and the spike in foreclosures were big setbacks for people who aspired to build wealth through homeownership. …Learn More