Posts Tagged "Social Security"

Opioids

Opioids are in the Disability Community Too

Opioids fueled a record of nearly 100,000 drug overdose deaths in the United States last year.

The biggest cause of overdose deaths was dangerous synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl. But the epidemic involving illegal chemicals grew out of the abuse of highly addictive prescription opioids. A spate of new research reveals that the use and abuse of these prescription drugs have plagued people with disabilities, who often start taking them to treat painful musculoskeletal conditions such as arthritis or a bad back.

A 2017 analysis featured in this blog provided the first estimate of opioid use among people who have disabilities that limit their ability to work. The researchers found that about one in four people applying for federal disability benefits used the medications – a much higher rate than in the U.S. population overall.

Painkillers often do more harm than good because they can increase society’s dependence on disability benefits by impairing lung function, aggravating existing conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, or causing addiction. According to 2021 research by RAND that followed older workers over several years, the opioid users in the study were much more likely to wind up on disability than their counterparts who did not take them.

“Although the pain relief is an important health goal,” the researchers concluded, “the consequences to workers and social programs of powerful prescription painkillers are substantial and long-lasting.”

The isolation and stresses caused by the pandemic are believed to have fueled the dramatic rise in overdose deaths last year. But a long-running cause, prior to COVID, was the decline in U.S. manufacturing employment. Research reported in this blog directly tied the movement of robots onto factory floors to the rise in deaths of despair – from drug addiction, alcoholism, and suicide – among men between ages 30 and 54. The study found that automation accounts for nearly one in five overdose deaths in manufacturing counties, which are concentrated in the heavily industrialized Midwest. The researchers said the rate of applications for disability benefits is also higher in these counties.

Opioid abuse in the disability community is happening for the same reason it is pervasive in society: an ample supply of the addictive drugs. …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

exit door

Disability Overpayments Discourage Work

About one in five people on federal disability has some type of job, but the government limits how much they can earn without jeopardizing their cash benefits.

The Social Security Administration wants disability beneficiaries to hold down a job if they can. But when they earn more than the allowed limit in a given month – $1,310 in 2021 – the government sometimes ends up overpaying them for benefits that should’ve been withheld that month. This usually occurs because workers forget to notify the agency they had started a job or fail to provide their earnings information in a timely way.

When the mistake is discovered, Social Security sends a notice asking that the overpaid benefits be returned in the form of a cash payment or a reduction in future disability checks. But the repayments, which usually span several months, are a lot of money – around $9,000 – for a financially vulnerable population.

The problem, according to a Mathematica study forthcoming in the journal Contemporary Economic Policy, is that some people, soon after receiving a notice, reduce their hours or stop working altogether. One beneficiary described the repayment requests as a “penalty for working.”

In an analysis of an SSA database that tracks overpayments, the researchers examined the impact of the notices on working disability recipients who received them between 2007 and 2014. Six months prior to receiving a notice, 58 percent were employed and earning over the limit.

This employment rate declined gradually each month, presumably due to natural attrition. But the researchers find that the drop in the rate accelerated in the month they received the overpayment notice and in the following month, falling by 8 percent over that two-month period. About half of that decline was a response to the notices.

Leaving a job conflicts with Social Security’s goal of encouraging beneficiaries to maintain at least part-time work and improve their overall well-being – and if they have a milder disability, eventually return to the labor force full-time and end their reliance on benefits. …Learn More

minimum wage text

The Economy, Minimum Wage, and Disability

The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour and hasn’t budged since 2009. But many states and some municipalities have raised their minimum wages. Today, more than half of the state minimums exceed the federal minimum.

Now a new trend has emerged: 19 states have enacted or approved automatic yearly increases in their minimum wages to protect their residents from inflation. These adjustments just went into effect this year in Arizona, Colorado, Maine, and Washington D.C.

How might higher minimum wages affect applications for disability insurance? On the one hand, the higher pay could prevent some people with mild disabilities from resorting to the fallback option: applying for disability benefits. But if small employers lay people off to cut costs or feel they can’t afford to hire workers at the new higher minimum wage, applications could go up. Facing fewer job opportunities, more low-wage workers might apply for benefits from a program that currently covers some 16 million Americans.

A new study finds that a rising minimum wage does, indeed, increase disability applications to the U.S. Social Security Administration. But the researchers stress that this impact is minimal compared with the increase driven by an economic downturn that throws more people out of work.

In their analysis of nearly 3,000 counties from 2000 through 2015, a one-dollar increase in the minimum wage added some 80,000 more applications to the disability program and its companion, the Supplemental Security Income program for the poor, elderly, and adults with disabilities. That represents a 2 percent increase.

Contrast that to the impact of a rising unemployment rate, which was about three times larger. …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