Posts Tagged "Social Security"

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Older and Self-Employed – a Satisfied Group

The transition to retirement can take many paths.

A couple years ago, Joelle Abramowitz at the University of Michigan described three groups of self-employed workers over 50. The bulk of them work independently, either as independent contractors or doing odd jobs, and are more often minorities, with very low pay and few employee benefits. Think Uber driver. The other two groups are business managers and business owners, who are predominantly white, male and in good financial shape.

In a follow-up to her earlier research, Abramowitz dug into 24 years of data to understand the self-employed older workers’ attitudes toward work and the transition to retirement. She found a heterogeneous group with a range of views about whether they are transitioning at all.

The independent contractors and workers stand out for being more likely to describe themselves as “partially retired.” Although they are self-employed, they apparently have their eyes on retiring. In addition to gig workers, they might be a caregiver, a stylist in someone else’s salon, or someone who drives people to the airport for a chauffeur company.

These workers have started their current jobs more recently than the owners and managers and say the work itself is not particularly stressful, which could indicate one of two things – that the job is less challenging than their past work or that its main purpose is just to generate extra income to bridge the financial gap to full retirement.

The owners and managers are much less likely to consider themselves in any stage of being retired, even though their roles may be changing. Their level of engagement reflects that. They usually work 30 to 40 hours and feel more stressed than the independent self-employed workers or older employees who are still on a company payroll. …Learn More

New Social Security Data on Child Benefits

Stacks of research studies document the impact of Social Security’s various benefits on the adults receiving them. But little is known about the children who get Social Security checks every month.

That’s starting to change, thanks to Timothy Moore at Purdue University. To advance research on child beneficiaries, he has created a database with more than four decades of Social Security’s county-level benefit data, including digitized paper records. He combined these records with children’s existing demographic and health data and information on their parents’ employment, income, and housing situations.

Last year, Social Security paid about $3 billion to children whose parents have qualified for benefits and are retired, disabled or deceased, as well as to some adults who still receive benefits because they became disabled before turning 22.

Moore’s preliminary analyses of the county data reveal changes in the programs over time. About 43 percent of the 4 million children with Social Security benefits currently get them because a working or retired parent has died – that’s down from 58 percent in 1980. The decline makes sense in the context of dramatic increases in longevity in the retiree population.

Going in the opposite direction is the trend for children receiving benefits because a parent is disabled. Their share grew from 29 percent of all child Social Security recipients in 1980 to a peak of 43 percent during the Great Recession before dropping in recent years. This pattern mirrors the changes in the adult disability population.

The smallest group receiving benefits are the children of retirees. Their share of all child recipients has changed only slightly over the years, ranging from 11 percent to 17 percent. …Learn More

People Can Spot a Scam After Seeing Fakes

The old and the young are most susceptible to scammers using fake identities to extract money from their victims. People in their 50s who went to college are in the sweet spot and are much better at resisting them.

The question is how to prevent the vulnerable from falling prey to imposter scams, which account for a third of the dollars Americans report to the FTC they’ve lost in frauds every year. A new study finds that exposing people to a watered-down version of a scam they might see in the real world teaches them to recognize an actual scam that comes across the transom.

In the imposter scams that are the focus of this study, someone pretends to represent a trusted organization like the Social Security Administration, the Red Cross, or online retailer Amazon. The goal is to coax either money out of the victim or personal information that can be used to make money. Imposters arrive in many forms – phone calls, emails, or texts.

To educate the 1,000-plus people recruited to this study, the researchers assigned them to one of four different online training programs. The only training that worked was designed to effectively inoculate the participants against fraud by exposing them to simulated scams on an email platform.

After reading each email, they were asked to decide whether it was a fraudulent appeal under the guise of a trusted organization or a copy of a legitimate communication from the organization. To figure this out, they could inspect the source of the email or click on links.

One example of a legitimate Social Security email was “Need a replacement card?” One of the frauds that came from socialsecurity.org – the agency’s actual website is ssa.gov – asked the email’s recipient to “review your Social Security statement.” …Learn More

Most Boomers Don’t Rely Solely on SSA.gov

In 2000, Social Security launched a website allowing retirees to sign up for their benefits online without having to call or visit the agency. By 2013, about half of new retirees were using this feature to file their claims. However, progress stalled after that, despite continued growth in the number of baby boomers who were retiring.

A new survey of 2,600 people between ages 57 and 70 finds that even the people who sign up for their benefits online often wind up contacting Social Security for assistance. In the end, only 37 percent of all retirees claim completely online and never visit a field office or call the agency’s 800 number at some point during that process, suggests research by Jean-Pierre Aubry, a researcher at the Center for Retirement Research.

The boomers who are the most likely to complete the entire application online are college-educated people who are comfortable banking or filing their taxes, according to Aubry’s study. At the same time, older people of color are more hesitant to sign up for their benefits without calling or visiting their local Social Security office.

Given Social Security’s staff shortage and budget constraints, both the agency and retirees would benefit from fewer calls and visits. Fortunately, the share of retirees who apply for benefits exclusively online is likely to increase in the future. It is second nature for young adults – regardless of their race or whether they went to college – who grew up with cell phones in their hands to manage their finances online or buy things. When they start retiring, they will be more at ease than their parents with signing up for benefits without speaking with someone at the agency.

But there are things Social Security could do to increase online activity now. The agency already provides a personalized online statement that details eligibility and benefit levels for workers of all ages who create a my Social Security account. Based on the survey of older workers, Social Security could make it easier to get answers to basic inquiries such as whether an application, once submitted, is being processed. …Learn More

Research to Look at Work, Retiring by Race

The racial disparities embedded in our work, retirement, and government systems will be front and center at the annual meeting of a national research consortium.

One of the presentations at the online meeting on Aug. 4 and 5 will explore the impact of wealth and income inequality on Black and Latinx workers at a time these populations are rapidly aging. The researchers are concerned with how their decisions about when to retire will impact their economic security.

Growing inequality “point[s] to greater risks of financial insecurity” for future Black and Latinx retirees, the researchers said.

Another paper will address a related topic: the differences, by race and ethnicity, in workers’ levels of knowledge about how Social Security benefits work. Understanding the ins and outs of the federal retirement benefit – and specifically the advantages of delaying retirement to get a larger monthly check – are critical to improving living standards in old age.

Other research will explore an area that hasn’t been well studied: government programs used by non-parental caregivers such as Black grandparents or members of Latinx three-generation households to support the children in their care. The researchers will examine minority and low-income workers’ and retirees’ use of SNAP food stamps, child care subsidies, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and various benefit programs overseen by Social Security.

COVID is another topic on the agenda. One study compares the financial impact of the pandemic on early retirement for different income groups with the patterns in the aftermath of the Great Recession more than a decade ago. Another study examines how mortality rates might change in the wake of the pandemic.

Research on many other topics will also be featured, including health insurance, mothers, and longevity. The agenda and information about registration are posted online. Registration is free. …Learn More

The Many Facets of Retirement Inequality

Retirement inequality is a thread running through several articles that have appeared here this year.

One blog that was particularly popular with our readers distinguishes retirees who have enough wealth to maintain the same spending levels throughout retirement from those who will, over time, have to cut back and reduce their standard of living.

The research behind the article – “Health and Wealth Drive Retirees’ Spending” – makes clear that wealth is just one component of a satisfying lifestyle. Even retirees who can afford to maintain their living standard may not be healthy enough to enjoy their money to the fullest. The retirees who have both – health and wealth – are best equipped to maintain their pre-retirement lifestyle.

Homeownership also marks a dividing line between the haves and have-nots. A home is one of retirees’ largest sources of wealth. Although most are hesitant to withdraw home equity, the ones who have equity and tap it to pay medical bills see large, positive health benefits, according to “Using Home Equity Improves Retirees’ Health.”

Pensions are another dividing line. “Retirees with Pensions Slower to Spend 401(k)s” shows the value of having guaranteed income from defined benefit pensions, which are all but extinct outside the public sector. …Learn More

Early Life Traumas Lead to Early Retirement

little girl choosing and taking book from shelf to readMental illness, obesity, smoking, chronic disease – researchers have been able to connect the dots between an array of stresses early in life and how people will fare as they age.

New research zeroes in on the adversities experienced by children and young adults that ultimately contribute to a premature retirement due to a disability.

The basic finding is not terribly surprising – that life’s financial and social circumstances can lead to disabling conditions that will either nudge, or force, older workers to leave the labor force early.

More remarkable is the exhaustive list of past experiences that can increase that risk.

For example, childhood financial adversity in this study took many forms – an unemployed father, family relocations for financial reasons, or even having few books in the house. People whose families struggled financially when they were children were the most likely to retire prematurely.

The study was based on surveys asking older working people born during the Baby Boom, the Depression, and World War II about stressful or traumatic events experienced in childhood and middle age. The researchers followed them through several years of surveys to determine who retired before turning 62. The early retirees were asked whether a medical condition or chronic disability was either an important reason for leaving the labor force or prevented them from continuing to work altogether.

Added to the childhood traumas are a range of social adversities faced by young and middle-aged adults – the death of a spouse, natural disasters, combat duty, divorce, violence, or having a child addicted to drugs – that also increased the likelihood of early retirements. …Learn More