Posts Tagged "retirement"

Documentary: Navigating a 401k World

Early in this new documentary, the director’s message seems to be that retirement finances are messy, elusive, and too complicated for mere mortals to understand. He’s right on all counts.

Filmmaker Doug Orchard reminds us in “The Baby Boomer Dilemma: An Exposé on America’s Retirement Experiment” that there are no easy solutions for Social Security, which economists predict will deplete its trust fund reserves around 2034. Closing the shortfall will probably require some combination of benefit cuts and revenue increases.

Social Security is “one of the most important problems we face as a nation,” The Wharton School’s Olivia Mitchell says in the documentary.

Our other primary program – a 401(k)-style retirement savings plan – seems great when the stock market is going up, as it has until recently. Viewers are reminded of the 2008 stock market crash, which panicked older workers who realized they might not have time to make up their losses before retiring. The stock market rises over long periods of time, increasing the money in retirement accounts, but it entails risks that can be unnerving for workers and force them into making bad decisions about their investments.

Finally, the filmmaker presents a real-world example – in Florida – of the difficult decisions workers grapple with in a U.S. retirement system that has largely transitioned from defined benefit pensions, which provide regular monthly income, to 401(k) and other defined contribution plans, which accumulate a pot of savings that retirees have to figure out how to manage.

“Baby boomers are sort of the guinea pig, and we’ve said, ‘Okay you figure it out guys,’ ” says David Babbel at Wharton. …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

Readers’ Favorite Retirement Blogs in 2021

For the baby boomers who are looking down the road to retirement, generalities will no longer suffice. They are diving into the nitty gritty.

Their keen interest in retirement issues, based on reader traffic last year, range from why the adjustments to Social Security’s monthly benefits are outdated to how it’s still possible for boomers, even at this late hour, to rescue their retirement.

First, and most important, there is hope for the unprepared. In “No-benefit Jobs Better than Retiring Early,” readers who want to retire but can’t afford it learned that they can dramatically improve their finances by finding a new job – ideally a less stressful or physically demanding one. Even if the job doesn’t have employee benefits, working longer will increase their Social Security benefits and allow them to save a little more.

The most popular article tackled a complex issue: “Social Security: Time for an Update?” The article explained the program’s actuarial adjustments, which are based on the age someone signs up for their benefits and factors into how much they’ll get. The adjustments, set decades ago, are no longer accurate, due to both increasing life spans that affect how much retirees receive from the program over their lifetimes and persistently low interest rates.

If these factors were taken into account, the researchers estimate that the average person who starts Social Security at age 62 would get more in their monthly checks, and the average person who holds out until 70 would get less.

However, not everyone is average. High-income workers tend to live longer and retire – and claim Social Security – later, while low-income workers have shorter lifespans and disproportionately start Social Security at 62.  The researchers conclude that the inequities “are not a problem that can be solved by tinkering with the actuarial adjustment.” A true fix would “would require a reassessment of the benefit structure.”

A major issue facing boomers in their late 50s and early 60s is that households with 401(k)s typically have saved only about $144,000 for retirement in their 401(k)s and IRAs. The reasons for insufficient savings – explained in “Here’s Why People Don’t Save Enough” – boil down to things that are largely beyond their control, including disruptions in their employment, a lack of access to employer retirement plans, lower earnings than they’d hoped for, bad investments, unanticipated premature retirements, and health problems.

However, workers can do something to gauge how they’re doing: make sure they know how much they’ll get from Social Security. …Learn More

COVID Hasn’t Pushed Boomers into Retiring

Three months into the pandemic, a few million older workers had been laid off or quit. But what happened next?

The rapid drop in employment due to COVID gave the Center for Retirement Research an unusual opportunity to study the labor force decisions of baby boomers, who are within striking distance of retirement age but may or may not be ready to take the leap.

Traditionally, older workers who left a job tended to retire. But there was little indication that the people who stopped working during the pandemic saw retirement as their best fallback option.

This conclusion by the researchers is consistent with the pre-COVID trend of boomers working longer to put themselves in a better financial position when they eventually do retire. In fact, many older workers have returned to the labor force as the economy has rebounded and vaccines have become widely available.

Little impact on older workers retiringBut in April 2020, job departures spiked before settling back down at a new, much higher level. The annual pace of departures increased from 15 percent of workers 55 and over in 2019, prior to COVID, to 23 percent in 2020.

The researchers found a surprise when they looked at who stopped working. Although older people are vulnerable to becoming seriously ill from COVID, age wasn’t a big factor in their decisions. Boomers in their 60s were no more likely to leave their jobs than people in their mid- to late-50s, according to the analysis of monthly Census Bureau surveys.

The groups most likely to leave the labor force were women, Asian-Americans, and workers who either don’t have a college degree or don’t have a job that easily lends itself to working remotely.

But among all of the age 55-plus workers in the study, the share reporting that they had retired barely increased, from an average of 12 percent prior to COVID to 13 percent last year.

The only people who left their jobs and retired in significant numbers during the pandemic were over 70. This finding reinforced what the researchers found in data from the U.S. Social Security Administration: the pandemic didn’t have a major impact on retirement because the share of workers between 62 and 70 who signed up for Social Security was relatively flat between April 2019 and June 2021. …Learn More

Small town square

Social Security Stabilizes Local Economies

Social Security’s great achievement for retirees is a guarantee that they’ll get a check every month, without fail. Less appreciated is the stability the program brings to local economies and businesses.

Retirees use their Social Security benefits to patronize establishments that sell goods and services locally such as restaurants, car repair shops, banks, and hospitals. That steady supply of spending in good times and bad helps to stabilize economies, according to research conducted by the Center for Retirement Research and funded by the U.S. Social Security Administration.

Between 2000 and 2018, working-age adults’ employment levels and earnings were less affected by the ups and downs in the state unemployment rate in counties where Social Security provides a higher percentage of residents’ total income.

During the Great Recession, for example, when unemployment rates surged across the country, earnings and employment did not decline as much in counties that were more reliant on the federal retirement benefits.

The researchers’ analysis of U.S. Census data produced similar results when they tested Social Security’s stabilizing effects on specific industries that sell locally. Businesses in several industries – retail and entertainment, healthcare, education, financial services, and other services – had more stable employment and earnings when county residents got a higher percentage of their total income from the program. Manufacturers, which tend to sell their products nationally or internationally, were excluded from the industry analysis.

Social Security’s regularity and reliability set it apart from the countercyclical federal programs that were designed to ease the pain of recessions, such as unemployment benefits or food assistance distributed through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Social Security, the researchers concluded, serves as a valuable “stabilizer for the local economy, above and beyond its direct value to beneficiaries.”

To read this study, authored by Laura Quinby, Robert Siliciano and Gal Wettstein, see “Does Social Security Serve as an Economic Stabilizer?”Learn More

Retirement blocks

Change to Social Security Impacts Decisions

In 1983, Congress introduced gradual increases in the eligibility age for full Social Security benefits from 65 to 67. The increases, starting in 2000 and continuing today, have meant larger reductions in the monthly checks for people who sign up for their benefits early.

This was a major cut to Social Security benefits, and it has had an impact. Retirement rates have declined among workers in their early 60s as they delayed retirement to make up for the larger penalties for claiming their benefits early, a new study found.

Estimating the effect of this change on retirements is challenging, so the researchers compared actual retirement rates after the reform with their estimates of what the rates would’ve been if Congress had not increased the full retirement age. They also calculated the retirement rates a few different ways. Their main estimate, based on three decades of U.S. Census data, was notable, because it showed a substantial decline in retirements at age 62, which is the first time workers can collect Social Security – and the age that exacts the biggest penalty in the form of a smaller monthly check.

At ages 63 to 65, the penalties for claiming early shrink – and the effect of the reform was less noticeable.

But the main estimate of retirement rates – the incidence rate – showed that the 1983 increase in retirement penalties had a significant impact on 62-year-olds. The incidence rate is the number of people in a given year who retire at 62 as a percentage of everyone in their birth cohort.

The results showed that 10 percent of the men – all workers born after 1937 – left the labor force when they were 62. That’s about 5 percentage points less than the rate would’ve been without the reform.

For women, the incidence rate at 62 was 8.4 percent, which is about 2 points less than if there had been no reform. Their response may have been more muted because women retire for different reasons than men. …Learn More

People of various occupations

Retirement Saving is Focus of Popular Blogs

U.S. retirement preparedness can best be described as mediocre: about half of workers are not saving enough money to continue their current standard of living once they retire.

Judging by a dozen blogs that attracted the most web traffic in the third quarter, our readers understand the importance of the issue. Some felt strongly that workers need to take responsibility for their retirement finances. Workers “disregard the notion of saving for the future,” one reader said in a comment posted to “Onus of Retirement Planning is on Us.” “They have lived their lives like there is no tomorrow and spend money on any and everything they want.”

To boost savings, growing numbers of state officials and employers are taking charge. The article, “State Auto-IRAs are Building Momentum,” was a roundup of states that are either implementing or weighing a requirement that employers automatically enroll their employees in an IRA. The workers can always opt out if they want to, but they often remain in the plans.

And automatic enrollment in 401(k)s and 403(b)s is gaining traction in the private sector. The plans, which were virtually nonexistent in 2003, now make up a significant minority of corporate and non-profit plans, according to a unique database that tracked the changes in plan design. A summary of this research appears in “401(k) Plans Evolve to Boost Workers’ Savings.”

Baby boomers never seem to get enough information about the nuts and bolts of retirement. In “Enrollment Trends in Medicare Options,” readers had a vigorous debate about the advantages and disadvantages of supplemental Medigap plans versus Medicare Advantage insurance policies. The article revealed a major shift away from Medigap and into Medicare Advantage, which has the benefit of relatively low premiums, with the tradeoff being that Advantage plans tend to provide less protection from large medical bills than Medigap.

Our readers are also interested in the difficult decisions boomers are making about when to retire. The article, “Not Everyone Can Delay their Retirement,” highlighted the racial and educational disparities driving these decisions. And “Disability Discrimination and Aging Workers” dealt with the choice facing aging workers whose bodies are breaking down but who can’t afford to retire.

Here are a few more articles that attracted readers’ attention – some about retirement and some not: …Learn More