A dramatic decline in widow’s poverty over a quarter century has been a positive outcome of more women going to college and moving into the labor force.
Yet 15 percent of widows are still poor – three times the poverty rate for married women.
A new study by the Center for Retirement Research takes a fresh look at Social Security’s widow benefits and finds that increasing them “could be a well-targeted way” to further reduce poverty.
Widows are vulnerable to being poor for several reasons. The main reason is that the income coming into a household declines when the husband dies. The number of Social Security checks drops from two to one, and any employer pension the husband received is reduced, or even eliminated if the couple didn’t opt for the pension’s joint-and-survivor annuity.
While one person can live more cheaply than two, the drop in income for new widows often isn’t accompanied by a commensurate drop in expenses.
Another issue begins to develop as much as 10 years before a husband dies. Prior to his death, his declining health may increase the couple’s medical expenses and reduce his ability to work, depleting the couple’s – and ultimately the widow’s – resources.
The irony today for wives who worked is that their decades in the labor force generally improve their financial prospects when they become widowed. Yet, under Social Security’s longstanding design, they receive less generous benefits than housewives – relative to the household’s benefits prior to the husband’s death. …Learn More
My husband is newly retired, and we’ve spent hours talking about where we might want to live after I retire in a few years. Our imagined scenarios are always changing.
But I’m clear on one thing: I do not want to buy a house in Naples, Florida, where a couple we know did recently. No offense to Naples, which has lots to recommend it – no shoveling! But the typical resident is 65 years old. In fact, Naples is older than the state of Florida, where retirement communities are so pervasive that they distinguish between the “young-old” (ages 60-75) and the “old-old” (over 75).
Boston, where my husband and I live now, couldn’t be more different. It is swarming with college students and young people, including his two sons and daughter-in-law. Boston’s young people work in rapidly changing industries like high-tech or environmental engineering, and I like it that way. Boston’s median age is 32 – half of Naples.
As I get closer to retiring and am faced with change, I think to myself, “Who wants to live in the midst of a bunch of old people like me?”
But that’s precisely what many retirees do. There are many examples of cities that have moved dramatically in the direction of one or the other extremes – Boston or Naples; Madison, Wisconsin, or Scottsdale, Arizona. The Wall Street Journal reported that new retirement communities are popping up in places that weren’t traditional resting places for snowbirds: retired baby boomers’ net migration to the Appalachian region where Georgia, North Carolina, and Tennessee converge has quadrupled since 2011.
This age segregation is a relatively new area of interest to demographers. Almost 60 percent of the neighborhoods and other subdivisions within U.S. counties have moderate or high levels of segregation, which is similar in degree to the level of segregation between the U.S. Hispanic and white populations, Richelle Winkler found in a 2013 study of federal Census data.
Age segregation also occurs in rural areas, as younger people leave for jobs and older people move in. In some rural parts of the Great Plains, Winkler writes, there are two times more seniors than young adults. …Learn More
It’s long been known that people with high earnings tend to live longer than low earners. But this gap in life expectancy has widened into a gulf.
For example, high-earning men born back in 1912 lived about eight months longer than their counterparts in the bottom half of the income range. This longevity gap increased to five years for men who were born in 1941 and are now in their late 70s. The disparity for women is similar, but not as extreme.
This growing longevity gap has important implications for Social Security. The program’s intent is to be progressive – more generous to lower-income retirees. But the unequal life spans have significantly reduced that progressivity, concludes Matt Rutledge in a new synopsis of research in this area for the Center for Retirement Research, which sponsors this blog.
The reason low-income workers are losing ground is that they don’t live as long, so they don’t collect Social Security for as many years as high-income workers do.
A study by the National Academy of Sciences, one of several demonstrating the decline in the program’s progressivity, found that the value of lifetime Social Security benefits, adjusted for inflation, increased nearly 30 percent for the highest-income retirees born in 1960, compared with the top earners born 30 years earlier. But benefits either fell or stagnated over that time for retirees on the lowest two tiers of the income scale – the people who rely far more on Social Security. …Learn More
Retirement clearly is not a priority for far too many young working adults.
Large minorities of the 22- to 37-year-olds who responded to a recent LendEdu survey said their retirement saving every month amounts to less than they spend on various categories of consumer goods. Nearly half of them report they spend more on dining out than on retirement saving. Almost one in three spend more on alcohol or new clothes, and one in four spend more on streaming services such as Netflix and Spotify. What that indicates is that a lot of them aren’t saving very much.
It might seem unfair that saving for retirement is such an urgent matter for someone not yet out of their 30s. After all, they aren’t earning very much yet, are managing household expenses for the first time, and might have a big student loan payment.
But the reality today is that Millennials were not lucky like some of their parents born into a world where they had a decent shot at a job with a pension. And a Social Security check alone is definitely not enough for a retiree to live on.
More and more employers are countering a reluctance to save by automatically signing workers up for the company retirement plan – nearly 50 percent of employers are doing this, compared with just 20 percent a decade ago, according to Vanguard’s client data. The idea behind automatic enrollment is that, just as inertia prevents people from signing up for a 401(k), inertia will keep them in the plan if the employer puts them there.
The strategy seems to be working: 92 percent of workers in their mid-20s to mid-30s whose employers have auto-enrollment are contributing part of their paychecks to their 401(k) plans, according to Vanguard. Contrast that to just 52 percent of workers in this age group whose employer plans are voluntary.
There’s nothing better than to be young and carefree, but the young adults who aren’t saving are already putting their well-being in old age at risk. …Learn More
Walter Mischel, who used marshmallows to test children’s ability to delay gratification, died recently, but his lesson never grows old.
For those who aren’t familiar with his famous test, a young girl or boy sits at a table with a single marshmallow on a plate. The tester tells the child that he or she can eat the marshmallow right away, but waiting to eat it until the tester comes back into the room will bring a big payoff: a second sweet, puffy morsel.
Watching the children in this video squirm as they wrestle with their decisions brings to mind the adult equivalent. A desire for immediate self-gratification can come at the detriment of any number of personal financial decisions.
Like the marshmallow test, consuming now means having less money in the bank later. The test also applies to deciding when to retire. Retiring becomes extremely tempting for baby boomers who want to escape from work after decades in the labor force. But those who wait patiently for a few more years will have a sweeter retirement: a much larger Social Security check and more 401(k) savings distributed over fewer total years in retirement.
Children, when faced with the marshmallow test, struggle mightily to exercise self-control. They pick up the marshmallow to examine it, play with it, nibble it, and move it out of reach – but impulse gets the better of them, and they pop it into their mouths.
The lesson here is the same for children and adults: resist temptation and be rewarded. …Learn More
When Thomas Uttormark turned 65 in 2010, he researched his Medigap options on the Medicare.gov website and chose a plan with a premium of around $100 a month.
As his premium inched up over the next two years, he decided to apply to another insurance company to see if he could reduce the cost of his policy. Since the federal government dictates the coverage amounts under each of the 10 Medigap plans, he reasoned, his existing insurer’s Plan N provided exactly the same coverage as any other insurer’s Plan N – and the new plan might be cheaper.
“I thought it was no big deal to switch,” said the 73-year-old Uttormark.
However, switching did prove to be a big deal. His application was denied. He suspects it was due to his pre-existing conditions, which included a routine gallbladder surgery before he retired, and his cholesterol, blood pressure and acid reflux conditions, which are fully controlled with medications. The insurer didn’t give him a reason for the denial.
Uttormark ran headlong into a maze of federal regulations that determine whether, when, and how a retiree can transfer from one insurer’s Medigap plan to another insurer’s Medigap. One in four people enrolled in traditional Medicare have Medigap supplemental insurance – about 10 million retirees – and are affected by these restrictive regulations.
They are “particularly confusing,” said Casey Schwarz, the senior counsel for education and federal policy for the Medicare Rights Center in New York and Washington.
She said that people who’ve just signed up for Medicare Parts A and B routinely call her organization because they are having trouble sorting out their options and what they will be permitted to do in the future if they choose either Medigap, which is supplemental coverage for traditional Medicare, or Medicare Advantage private insurance after initially signing up for Medicare Parts A and B.
A handful of states have looser regulations than the federal rules – California, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Missouri, New York, and Oregon – and allow retirees to move more freely among various Medigap plans, though the states also have their own restrictions.
Schwarz explained that the insurance company denied coverage to Uttormark because he did not qualify for what the federal government calls “guaranteed issue.”
Under guaranteed issue, there is only one time when every Medicare beneficiaries is assured access to a Medigap policy: when they first sign up for Medicare Part B. At this time, insurers can neither deny coverage based on a pre-existing condition nor charge a higher premium if an applicant has a specific health condition.
Another guaranteed issue period applies to limited numbers of retirees. It gives retirees the right to buy a Medigap policy – even people with pre-existing conditions – if they lose their previous coverage through no fault of their own. Perhaps their current Medigap or Medicare Advantage insurer went bankrupt or left the state, or their employer ended its Medicare supplement for retirees. When this occurs, however, the retiree must select a new policy within 63 days of losing their old coverage.
Uttormark didn’t qualify for guaranteed issue because he was choosing to drop his Medigap policy for a less expensive one. Insurers can rightly “refuse to sell him a policy, can charge him more for pre-existing conditions, or refuse to cover his pre-existing conditions,” Schwarz said.
The federal rules also provide an opportunity to switch plans if retirees selected Medicare Advantage as their first form of insurance when they enrolled in Medicare. In this case, they are permitted to move into any Medigap policy sold in their area but they, too, have a restriction: they must do so within the first year of their initial Medicare enrollment.
“Medicare beneficiaries who miss these windows of opportunity may unwittingly forgo the chance to purchase a Medigap policy later in life,” the Kaiser Family Foundation said in a recent policy brief detailing the federal and state regulations.
The Medicare.gov website describes the circumstances in which beneficiaries qualify for federal guaranteed issue. …Learn More
If an alien were to drop in to study earthlings’ retirement, it would have to conclude that saving is either nearly hopeless or super easy.
Many Americans approach retirement planning with dread – hardly surprising, given that only about half of working-age adults are on track to have sufficient savings to retire in the lifestyle they’ve grown accustomed to while working.
But there purports to be an easier way – and it’s on YouTube. Googling “retirement” turns up all kinds of outlandish promises of nirvana for regular folks. Examples of YouTube titles are: “Retire Young. Retire Rich.” “Guaranteed Ways to Retire Rich.” “How to Retire in 10 Years – Much Easier Than You Think.” You get the picture.
Don’t be fooled. In a 401(k) world, what workers need is determination, planning, and persistence to ensure they’ll be prepared for old age. YouTube offers only magic bullets.
Many of these exploitative videos are targeted to 20-somethings new to the financial world, who may be more vulnerable and persuadable. But perhaps they are also able to attract hundreds or even thousands of viewers because they offer easy solutions to what may be our most anxiety-producing financial challenge: Will I ever be able to afford to retire?
Yes, one video claims. Retire at age 40! The self-appointed retirement expert in this video, who does not identify himself, hides behind cartoon illustrations on a white board to display his mathematical comparisons of workers who started saving at different ages. The point of this exercise is that people who start early will wind up with a better-funded retirement, due to compounding investment returns, than those who start in their 40s or 50s. So far so good.
But things quickly go downhill when he claims that it’s possible for a 23-year-old to retire in 17 years. You “don’t have to work another day in your life, and you’re still able to do the things you want to do,” he says, allowing this tantalizing prospect to sink in with the audience. But his retire-at-40 scheme has a catch – and it’s a big one. To achieve this goal, a 23-year-old would have to save half of his or her income. Young adults are trying to achieve independence – not move back in with their parents to follow his financial prescription. …Learn More