July 2, 2020
Recession Destabilizes Boomers’ Finances
The COVID-19 recession has changed everything.
This extreme disruption in our lives is always top of mind, which was reflected in our most widely read articles so far this year, based on the blog’s traffic.
Baby boomers, their retirement plans having been deeply affected by the Great Recession, are once again reassessing their finances. One popular article explained that the boomers who were in their early to late 50s during the previous recession lost about 3 percent of their total wealth at the time. This put their retirement planning at a distinct disadvantage compared with earlier generations in their 50s, whose wealth, rather than shrinking, grew 3 percent to 8 percent. The current recession is the second major setback in just over a decade.
Prior to the pandemic, readers liked articles about making careful retirement plans. Post-pandemic, the most popular article was about laid-off boomers desperate for income who may have to start their Social Security prematurely. The retirement benefits can be claimed as early as age 62, but doing so locks in the smallest possible monthly Social Security check – for life.
Even before Millennials were hit by the recession, they were already farther behind older generational groups when they were the same age. One article explained that the typical Millennial had just $12,000 in wealth. They are “the only generation to have fallen further behind” during the pre-pandemic recovery, the Federal Reserve said.
Here are a dozen of this blog’s most popular articles for the first half of 2020. They are grouped into three topics: COVID-19 and Your Finances, Retirement Planning, and Retirement Uncertainties.
COVID-19 and Your Finances:
Social Security Tapped More in Downturn
Lost Wealth Today vs the Great Recession
Boomers Facing Tough Financial Decisions …Learn More
June 18, 2020
Recession Slams Millennials – Again
Several young adults in my life have been derailed by the COVID-19 recession.
A few examples. My daughter-in-law just finished her graduate degree in occupational therapy and sailed through her certification only to be met by a stalled job market. A friend’s daughter, fresh out of nursing school, has already been turned down for one job. My nephew, a late bloomer who had finally snared a job making jewelry for a major retailer, was laid off and is floundering again.
Student loans, the Great Recession, and now a pandemic – Millennials can’t seem to catch a break.
Going into this pandemic, people in their 20s and 30s already had lower wages, more student debt, and less wealth than previous generations at the same age. This recession arrives at a critical time when Millennials were trying to catch up, build careers and strive for financial goals.
For the youngest ones, this is their first recession. But the downturn is the second blow for older Millennials, many of whom had the bad luck of entering the job market in the midst of the Great Recession a decade ago.
Does this double jeopardy put them in danger of becoming “a lost generation”? Millennials’ predicament prompted the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis to ask this question in a new report on their finances.
The COVID-19 recession, the report said, “could upend many of their lives.”
The situation is far from hopeless, of course – they have several decades to make up for this rough patch! There’s no reason they can’t overcome the setbacks with some pluck and determination.
But this will require much more effort to pull off amid the highest unemployment rate since the Great Depression. The Federal Reserve estimates more than 5.5 million Millennials have become unemployed this year – African-Americans bore a disproportionate share of the layoffs.
Young adults were over-represented in the food service, hospitality, and leisure industries slammed by state shutdowns to control the pandemic. And as the recession plays out, Millennials, with their shorter tenures in the labor market, will continue to be vulnerable to layoffs.
Don’t forget about Generation Z either. The recession will be a tough period for its oldest members, who are just graduating from college and haven’t built up their resumés. They may be less appealing job candidates when so many experienced people are eager to work and willing to compromise on pay at a time of sky-high unemployment. …Learn More
June 16, 2020
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
May 26, 2020
How COVID-19 Spreads in Nursing Homes
The coronavirus has pulled back the curtain on longstanding problems in nursing homes. In 2014, the Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services had reported that more than one in five seniors in skilled nursing facilities experienced “adverse events.” These included poor medical care, patient neglect, and inadequate infection control, which frequently sent residents to the hospital.
Now, some nursing homes have become COVID-19 hotspots. This has contributed to disproportionate numbers of deaths among people over age 70, who may also have weakened immune systems that make them more susceptible to the virus or underlying medical conditions that increase their mortality rate.
Anthony Chicotel, a staff attorney with California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform, discussed what he’s seen in nursing homes in the months since the pandemic began.
Briefly, Tony, name the big three underlying problems you feel caused the virus to spread.
Chicotel: No. 1 is chronic understaffing to meet the needs of the residents and to perform all the basic functions required every day. No. 2 would be a tolerance for poor infection control practices. This flows from No. 1 because good infection control requires time, and it’s one of the things that gets cut when you’re pressed for time. No. 3 might be the practice of staff working in multiple facilities. Because they are often low-paid, it’s not unusual for them to work for two different companies that do nursing home care, or they might also work for an assisted living provider. This cross-pollination contributes to the spread of the virus among facilities. We’ve also learned that most of the staff who had the coronavirus have been asymptomatic.
The problems in nursing homes are not new?
Chicotel: I think we should’ve anticipated this. Coronavirus has brought all this out into the open but the Centers for Disease Control cites a a pre-pandemic study that found that up to 388,000 nursing home residents die each year resulting from poor control of infections such as Methicillin-resistant bacteria (MRSA) and urinary tract and respiratory infections. We’ve just accepted this staggering breakdown of infection control for a long time. I’m an advocate, and it wasn’t something I really focused on either. It’s been begging to be addressed in a significant way for some time.
Talk about infection control. In this pandemic, everyone is aware that hand washing is critical to stopping the virus. You cited a report by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) that 36 percent of long-term care facilities do not comply with hand-washing protocols and 25 percent do not comply with protocols for personal protective equipment (PPE). …Learn More
May 21, 2020
Lost Wealth Today vs the Great Recession
For older workers starting to think about retiring, the economic maelstrom the coronavirus set in motion is a reminder of that sinking feeling they experienced just over a decade ago.
In 2008, the stock market plunged nearly 40 percent, accelerating the steep decline that was underway in U.S. house prices. The unfolding 2020 recession is playing out differently. But both downturns have one thing in common: Social Security as a stabilizing influence on older workers’ retirement finances.
A 2011 study of the change in baby boomers’ finances during the Great Recession found that total wealth dipped by 2.8 percent, on average, between 2006 and 2010 for households between ages 51 and 56.
The 2.8 percent decline in wealth at the time was a significant setback for baby boomers. In more normal times, earlier generations had increased their wealth by 3 percent to 8 percent at comparable ages.
Nevertheless, things could have been so much worse for baby boomers were it not for the substantial wealth they had built up over several decades in their future Social Security benefits – an amount that is unaffected by the collapse of financial and housing markets. The average value of these future Social Security benefits was 30 percent of boomers’ wealth.
Wealth in the study also included home equity and retirement plan accounts.
This time around, it’s too early to determine the severity of the downturn’s effects on older workers. Unlike the previous recession, though, this one has had little impact on house prices so far, and the stock market, after sinking in March, has regained about half of its losses thanks to aggressive action by the Federal Reserve.
The major worry is unemployment. The jobless rate approached 15 percent in March – well above the 2009 peak of 10 percent – and economists expect it to keep rising.
But, in any recession, Social Security is a stabilizing force. Today, it represents a large share of older workers’ wealth just as it did a decade ago. And lower- and middle-income workers’ benefits are a much larger share of wealth, because they are far less likely to have substantial assets in 401(k)s. …Learn More
May 19, 2020
The Profound Financial Pain of COVID-19
It was hard to miss the news last year that four out of 10 people couldn’t come up with $400 if they had an emergency. The coronavirus is that emergency – on steroids.
A wave of new surveys asking Americans about their personal finances reveal the depth of a crisis that has suddenly befallen untold numbers of people. And the worst, economists say, is probably still ahead of us.
As of last week, 36.5 million people had filed for unemployment benefits, and that doesn’t include some workers who were furloughed or have not yet been able to file their applications for benefits. The Federal Reserve said nearly 40 percent of people living in households earning less than $40,000 have lost their jobs.
As the virus tore through the country in April, most adults cited a lack of savings as the reason for their financial stress in a survey by the National Endowment for Financial Education.
What many people have, instead, is debt. In recent years, consumers loaded up on credit card and other debt – for bigger houses, new cars, vacations. This is what people do when the job market is strong and confidence is riding high. …Learn More
April 30, 2020
Unexpected Retirement Costs Can be Big
Resourceful retirees usually weather the financial surprises that come their way. But a handful of unexpected health events can really hurt.
The death of a spouse is at the top of the list. Net worth drops by more than $30,000 over a couple of years as retirees pay for the extraordinary medical and other expenses surrounding a spouse’s death.
Two serious health conditions also deplete retirees’ assets: strokes and lung disease, which strike about one in five older Americans during their lifetimes, according to a National Bureau of Economic Research study funded by the U.S. Social Security Administration that tracked changes in the finances of people 65 and over.
Despite the presence of Medicare, a first-time stroke reduces a retired household’s average wealth by more than $25,000 – or 6 percent – and lung disease reduces it by about $29,000.
Net worth in this study includes financial assets and home equity minus debts.
These estimates of the cost of various events provide new information about a few of the many unknowns that go into retirement planning. Workers who may think they are saving enough to cover their routine retirement expenses don’t necessarily factor in medical and related costs that are difficult or impossible to predict.
Taken together, single and married retirees will use anywhere from 3 percent to 14 percent of their wealth to pay these unpredictable expenses. But wealthy retirees, who can afford first-rate care, spend much more than the average, while poor people, who have Medicaid to supplement their Medicare, spend very little. …Learn More