March 19, 2015
The Influence of Language on Saving
If so many human characteristics are universal, why does something so basic as the household saving rate vary from 10 percent in Belgium to 4 percent in the United States?
Traditional economic explanations point to built-in retirement account defaults, government mandates or financial incentives. But UCLA behavioral economist Keith Chen mines the study of linguistics for an unorthodox explanation of the wide global disparities in saving.
Discussing his early findings in this new field in the video above, Chen explains one aspect of grammar that may influence saving.
To find out what that is, watch the video. This Ted talk was filmed in Edinburgh, Scotland in 2012. …Learn More
March 10, 2015
9 Measures of U.S. Economic Inequality
The interactive chart above illustrates the increasing U.S. disparity over the past 50 years between how much wealth the rich own – shown on the right side of the chart – and everyone else on the left.
The vast majority of Americans build wealth week by week, saving a little bit of their paychecks. Workers set aside wealth in less obvious ways too, by contributing some of that paycheck to Social Security and possibly paying down a mortgage.
Differences in earnings add up over a lifetime and contribute to how much wealth people are able to accumulate. This is explored in the Urban Institute’s series of nine charts, including the one above. Take the earnings trend over a half century shown in Chart No. 2 on the Urban Institute’s website: the nation’s top-paid workers have enjoyed increasing incomes, while wages have essentially been flat for those at the bottom. [All income and wealth data are in constant 2013 dollars and are comparable.]
The charts, when taken together, also illustrate how much larger is the wealth disparity between the top and bottom than is the earnings disparity. This is especially true of racial inequalities, even when the researchers control for income and age.
In Chart No. 5 on the Urban Institute’s website, the total value of the lifetime earnings of the typical white baby boomer born between 1943 and 1951 is $2 million – 30 percent more than African-Americans’ lifetime earnings of $1.5 million.
The typical white American families’ retirement savings (Chart No. 7) is $130,472 – seven times more than African-American families at $19,049. [Wealth data were provided only for families, not for individuals.] A report by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis reached similar conclusions about the income and wealth gaps for black families.
To see all nine of the Urban Institute’s charts and its report, click here.Learn More
February 26, 2015
5 Reasons Workers’ Stable Wealth Is Bad
Americans build wealth as they age, and this pattern of accumulation has been similar over three decades of U.S. Survey of Consumer Finances data collected by the Federal Reserve.
In the chart below, net wealth is expressed in terms of annual incomes for ages 20 through 64; for example, someone with $150,000 in wealth and $50,000 in income has a wealth-to-income ratio of 3. Net wealth equals financial assets such as 401(k)s and housing, minus debt and mortgages; income includes employment earnings and investment gains. This measure does not include Social Security or defined benefit (DB) pensions.
The stability of this wealth-to-income ratio over 30 years may, at first glance, be comforting. But it shouldn’t be – wealth should have increased during this time for five reasons.
1. Longer life spans than in the early 1980s require that Americans save more to fund more years in retirement.
2. Health care costs are rising, so people will need more wealth to cover their out-of-pocket costs. …Learn More
February 3, 2015
The Impact of Taxing Health Premiums
Excluding the health insurance premiums paid by employers and employees from workers’ taxable earnings is the federal government’s largest single tax expenditure, amounting to some $250 billion a year in lost revenue.
Eliminating the exclusions – as some in Washington have proposed – would sharply increase how much is taken out of workers’ paychecks for payroll taxes and for income taxes. But any such proposal would also put more money in their pockets when they retire by increasing the earnings base on which their Social Security benefits are calculated.
Urban Institute researchers Karen Smith and Eric Toder recently estimated the policy’s impact on workers’ taxes and benefits and found that it varied widely for different income groups and among people born in five different decades, the 1950s through the 1990s.
Their analysis took into account the myriad idiosyncrasies of the U.S. tax code, including a regressive payroll tax, a progressive income tax, Earned Income Tax Credits paid to the lowest-wage workers, and the cap on payroll taxes for the highest earners. To evaluate the proposals’ impact, the researchers added the premium amounts paid by both the employer and employee to workers’ taxable incomes – just as the deficit reduction proposals would do.
The resulting tax bite would be largest for the middle class. That’s because middle-income workers are more likely to have employer-provided health insurance than lower-income workers, and their insurance premiums are a larger share of their income than they are for higher-income groups. Under the proposal, middle-income workers’ federal income and payroll taxes would rise by an amount equal to 3.5 percent of their lifetime earnings. …Learn More
January 29, 2015
Retirement Saving: Excuses and Regrets
U.S. workers have a long list of reasons, many of them legitimate, for why they can’t come up with the money for a retirement savings plan.
But here’s the rub: we live in a 401(k) world. Workers who aren’t convinced of the urgency of saving should listen to people who have already retired. Even though many current retirees have defined-benefit pensions, they have become largely unavailable to most people still working today. And these retirees say they’ve learned the hard way that saving is key.
Excuses now and regrets later – these two takeaways came out of a nationally representative survey of workers and retirees by HSBC, a global financial institution.
Saving for retirement is not a major priority for 81 percent of the workers surveyed. The chart shows that saving takes a back seat to myriad other financial concerns, topped by the impact of the global economic downturn and the U.S. job market.
Things are much clearer to retirees. Nearly half of them, when asked for the latest age at which people should start preparing to retire, said before 30. Many retirees – about two out of five – said “they did not realize that their preparation had fallen short until it was far too late.”
Whatever obstacles they face, the question facing workers is: what can they do to save or save more? …Learn More
January 22, 2015
Winging It in Retirement?
Saving should be the centerpiece of any retirement plan today. But a new survey indicates that many Americans on the cusp of retiring have given little thought to the other key issues they’ll face in retirement.
A majority of older Americans recently surveyed by the American College of Financial Services, an educational organization for financial professionals, said they have set a goal for how much money to save to “live comfortably” as retirees. And, when asked to assess their own progress, they feel they’re doing a good job of it. Granted, the survey was limited to a select group of about 1,000 people over age 60, all of whom have at least $100,000 in investable assets.
But the financial risks posed by the transition away from full-time work and a regular paycheck are complex and continual – and preparing for them goes well beyond contributing to a 401(k).
Only a minority of people planning their retirement take into account these important financial issues: …Learn More
December 4, 2014
How to Think About Self-Control
“Self-control” is a catch-all label for resisting all sorts of temptations, including overspending. According to a new study, controlling overspending can be broken down into three distinct behaviors:
• Setting goals such as buying a house or saving money.
• Monitoring bank statements to systematically track where your money goes.
• Committing to the goal in the face of short-term temptations to spend.
Data for the study came from a nationally representative U.S. survey of households over age 50. The survey has extensive information about the households’ finances and about each individual’s resolve to set goals, track their finances, and carry out their commitments – whether financial or non-financial.
Households lacking self-control disproportionately have lower net worth – no surprise there. The largest effect is on their liquid financial assets, such as checking and savings accounts and IRAs. Impulsive consumption “is more likely to have an immediate impact on liquid holdings than on illiquid assets,” such as property, said the researchers, who are from Goethe University in Frankfurt.
More interesting is their analysis of the role played by self-control’s three individual components. The study found that the third ingredient – the ability to stick to commitments – draws the darkest line between success and failure in accumulating net worth.
But the researchers also divided net worth into “real wealth” – homes, other property, or vehicles – and financial wealth, which is more easily liquidated than property. Commitment again proved most important in determining whether people own property. But when it comes to accumulating financial wealth, monitoring one’s finances plays the largest role.
Everyone talks about self-control. This study clarifies what it is.