April 18, 2019
Know the Social Security Survivor Benefit
My divorced aunt did not work while she was raising eight children. After her former husband died, she was pleasantly surprised to learn she could start collecting his Social Security.
She has a lot of company. Nearly two out of three men and women in a new survey by RAND were unaware of this rule: a divorced person who was married for at least 10 years is entitled to the deceased spouses’s survivor benefit. In fact, she would even get the benefit if he remarried.
In the case of couples who were still married when the spouse died, the marriage had to last only nine months for the survivor to get the benefit. Fewer than half of the people surveyed by the RAND researchers were aware of this rule.
The responses were no more impressive for some of the other questions about Social Security’s survivor benefit. This benefit is based on the higher-earning spouse’s work record – typically the husband. Even a wife who used to work and is collecting Social Security based on her work record is eligible to switch to her husband’s benefit after he dies – if his check is larger than hers.
To make the switch in this particular case, the widow must file with the Social Security Administration either online or at a local office. (However, if the wife never worked and is at retirement age, she will automatically start receiving her late-husband’s check.)
Unmarried partners sometimes operate under a misconception too: three out of four think, incorrectly, either that unmarried people can get the survivor benefit, or they don’t know.
One thing to note about this study is that Americans of all ages were surveyed, and it is not surprising that young adults would have little knowledge of program benefits intended for widows. But age doesn’t seem to bring wisdom: the results were equally dismal in a similar earlier survey of individuals who were at least 50 years old.
April is National Social Security Month. Couples should celebrate by learning more about how Social Security works – it’s critical to a widow’s standard of living. …Learn More
March 28, 2019
How China Trade Affects Social Security
If you don’t know this fact about Social Security, join the club. The percentage of earnings for all
U.S. workers combined that is subject to the Social Security payroll tax is falling. Growing income inequality is the reason.
Thirty-five years ago, Social Security taxes were levied on 90 percent of all workers’ earnings. By 2016, this taxable share of earnings had declined to 82.7 percent, according to federal data, and it will continue to drop over the next decade.
The payroll tax is 12.4 percent of an individual worker’s earnings, with half deducted from his paycheck and half paid by the employer. But the tax has a cap: once earnings reach $132,900 – the cap for 2019 – they do not have to pay the tax for the rest of the year.
This is where inequality comes in. Since incomes above the cap are growing much faster than regular workers’ incomes, a bigger share of earnings is escaping the cap every year.
The decline in the taxable share aggravates the existing problem that benefits being paid out by Social Security now exceed the tax revenues coming in.
A recent study identified growing U.S. trade with China as one important factor that is shrinking the share of earnings subject to the payroll tax.
China is now the largest source of U.S. imports. The increase in trade volume over several decades has contributed to U.S. income inequality by sharply eroding earnings for workers in the low-wage, low-skill industries that have lost factory jobs to China. But trade with China has actually been good for workers in the top 1 percent – their earnings have increased slightly. Think of the high-tech entrepreneur selling software to a Chinese manufacturer. These are the types of people who stop paying the payroll tax partway through the year, when their earnings exceed the cap. …Learn More
February 19, 2019
Tweaking Social Security for the Future
Social Security remains as vital today as it was after its 1935 passage. But advocates for the nation’s most vulnerable retirees have proposed ways to enhance their benefits.
Consider the minimum benefit. Put on the books in the early 1970s, its goal was to prevent poverty among retirees who had worked for decades in low-paying jobs. The benefit’s value has diminished due to a design flaw that rendered it largely ineffective.
A recent policy brief by the Center for Retirement Research analyzed various modest proposals to increase the minimum benefit and improve low-income retirees’ financial security.
This brief was the last in a series on modernizing Social Security. The relatively low cost of these proposals, many of which have bipartisan support, could be offset by benefit reductions for less-vulnerable retirees. The House of Representatives is planning hearings later this year looking into ways benefits might be enhanced.
The following are synopses of the policy problems and proposals discussed in the other briefs and covered in previous blogs: …Learn More
January 10, 2019
A Social Security Reform for Mom
Created in the 1930s, Social Security’s spousal benefit – it’s half of a retired husband’s benefit – was the way to compensate housewives for the work of raising children.
The world has changed, but Social Security hasn’t been modified to reflect the rise of the full-time, working mother.
Today, married women frequently have earned enough to collect Social Security based on their own employment histories, rather than a spousal benefit. The problem comes when their earnings are reduced – and ultimately their Social Security benefits – because they disrupted their career paths and sacrificed pay raises to care for their children.
Single motherhood has also become very common, which means that a wide swath of women have no access to spousal and survivor benefits at all. Due to a higher divorce rate, one in four first marriages don’t last the full 10 years that Social Security requires to qualify for these benefits.
The erosion of spousal benefits points to a future in which “large numbers of women are going to move through retirement with more disadvantages” than previous generations, concludes a recent report by the Center for Retirement Research.
This problem could be addressed if Social Security gave credit to parents for caregiving. Caregiver credits are already pervasive in Europe, including Austria, Germany, Spain, Sweden, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom, and they take various forms.
In this country, policy experts have proposed two different approaches to help parents with children under age six by increasing the earnings that dictate the size of their benefit checks. …Learn More
January 3, 2019
Here’s What Our Readers Liked in 2018
We’re kicking off 2019 with our periodic review of the most-read articles over the past year, based on the blog traffic tracked by Google Analytics.
Judging by the comments readers leave at the end of the blog posts, baby boomers are really diving into the nitty-gritty of preparing themselves mentally and financially for retirement. Financial advisers also frequently comment on Squared Away, and we hope some of our web traffic is because they’re sharing our blog with their clients.
Last year, Squared Away received recognition from other media. The Wall Street Journal recommended us to its readers for the blog’s “wonderful mix of topics.” The Los Angeles Times picked up our article, “Why Retirement Inequality is Rising.” MarketWatch published our posts about how pharmacists can help seniors reduce their prescription drug prices and about a Social Security reform to reduce elderly poverty.
The most popular blogs in 2018 fall into five categories:
The Big Picture
How Social Security Gets Fixed Matters
Future ‘Retirees’ Plan to Work
Just Half of Americans Enjoy Bull Market
Personality Influences Path to Retirement
How and When to Retire
Know About the 401(k) Surprise
How Retirees Can Negotiate Drug Prices
Work vs Save Options Quantified
What’s a Geriatric Care Manager Anyway?
Geriatric Help Eases Family Discord
Retirees Get a 401(k) Withdrawal Headache
Social Security Mistakes Can Be Costly …Learn More
December 20, 2018
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
Be safe during the holidays, whether you’re traveling across town or across the country to enjoy your family and friends.
We’re taking a break too at the Center for Retirement Research. This blog will return on Thursday Jan. 3 with a roundup of our readers’ favorite articles in 2018. …Learn More
November 29, 2018
Boomers Find Reasons to Retire Later
It is one of “the most significant labor market trends” in the United States, says Wellesley College researcher Courtney Coile.
She’s referring to big increases since the 1980s and 1990s in the share of older Americans in the labor force, including one in three men in their late 60s.
As for women, the baby boomers were really the first generation to thoroughly embrace full-time employment. Older women’s participation in the labor force hasn’t quite caught up with their male coworkers, but they’ve made impressive strides since the 1980s and have rapidly closed the retirement-age gap.
Given the implications of this trend for retirement security – the longer people work, the better off they’ll be – Coile and many other researchers have investigated what’s driving it. They agree on several things that are changing the retirement calculation.
College. College graduation rates have increased dramatically over the past few decades, and people who’ve spent at least some time in college tend to remain in their jobs longer. This trend has played a big role in the increase in baby boomers’ participation in the labor force, Coile said.
Social Security. Three major reforms to the program have boosted U.S. retirement ages. A 1983 reform is slowly increasing the age at which workers are eligible to receive their full benefits, from 65 for past generations to 67 for workers who were born after 1959. This amounts to a significant benefit cut at any given age that a retiree claims his benefits. Various studies show that this has created an incentive to delay signing up for Social Security in order to increase the size of the monthly benefit checks.
The 1983 legislation also played a role in pulling up the average retirement age by providing larger monthly benefit increases for people who delay Social Security beyond their full retirement age. In 2000, a third reform ended the temporary withholding of some benefits that had been in place for people in their late 60s who worked while simultaneously collecting Social Security.
Employer retirement plans. Two employer benefits that encourage people to retire at relatively young ages have largely gone by the wayside in the private sector. …Learn More