The vast majority of so-called contingent workers – think Lyft drivers, AirBnB hosts, independent contractors, consultants, and freelancers – have built up the work history necessary to apply for federal disability benefits if they become injured.
The 86 percent coverage rate for contingent workers in their 50s and early 60s is less than the 92 percent for regular workers – but not by much.
Despite their relatively high rates of eligibility, however, older contingent workers are significantly less likely to end up on Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) than similar workers in traditional jobs, according to a new study by the Center for Retirement Research.
This finding is mainly driven by contingent workers’ lower application rates for SSDI. Applications are lower even for people with the physical, cognitive or emotional conditions that the government explicitly lists as SSDI-eligible.
“Even the contingent workers who need SSDI the most are less likely to apply for and be awarded benefits,” the researchers said.
They offer a couple reasons for the lower application rates. One reason might be that contingent workers would get less in their disability checks than workers with traditional jobs receive, because the benefits are based on earnings – and contingent workers earn an average $592 per month less than other workers.
A more compelling explanation is that they simply lack access to the natural avenues for learning about the program’s existence and their potential eligibility: unions, fellow employees, and a traditional employment arrangement. For example, private-sector employers often require people on their payrolls to apply for federal SSDI before receiving the company’s disability coverage. Contingent workers outside of this kind of arrangement are rarely covered by any employee benefits, let alone private disability insurance. …Learn More
David and Debra S. both had successful careers. In analyzing their retirement finances, the couple agreed that he should wait until age 70 to start his Social Security in order to get the largest monthly benefit.
But he wanted to sell his business at age 69 and retire then, so the North Carolina couple used their savings to cover some expenses over the next year.
Waiting until 70 – the latest claiming age under Social Security’s rules – accomplished two things. In addition to ensuring David gets the maximum benefit, waiting guaranteed that Debra, who retired a few years ago, at 62, would receive the maximum survivor benefit if David were to die first.
Other baby boomers might want to consider using this strategy. As this blog frequently reminds readers, each additional year that someone waits to sign up for Social Security adds an average 7 percent to 8 percent to their annual benefit – and these yearly increments spill over into the survivor benefit.
Delaying Social Security is “the best deal in town,” said Steve Sass at the Center for Retirement Research, in a report that proposes baby boomers use the strategy to improve their retirement finances.
Here’s the rationale. Say, an individual wants a larger benefit. Instead of collecting $12,000 a year at age 65, he can wait until 66, which would increase his Social Security income to $12,860 a year, adjusted for inflation, with the increase passed along to his wife after his death (if his benefit is larger than his working wife’s own benefit). The cost of that additional Social Security income is the $12,000 the couple would have to withdraw from savings to pay their expenses while they delayed for that one year.
Social Security is essentially an annuity with inflation protection – and the payments last as long as a retiree does. So the $12,000 cost of increasing his Social Security benefit can be compared with cost of purchasing an equivalent, inflation-indexed annuity in the private insurance market. An equivalent insurance company annuity for a 65-year-old man, which begins paying immediately and includes a survivor benefit, would cost about $13,500. …Learn More
Topics for this year’s Retirement and Disability Research Consortium meeting include the opioid crisis, retirement wealth inequality over several decades, trends in Social Security’s disability program, and the impacts of payday loans, college debt, and mortgages on household finances.
Researchers from around the country will present their findings at the annual meeting in Washington, D.C. Anyone with an interest in retirement and disability policy is welcome. Registration will be open through Monday, July 29. For those unable to attend, the event will be live-streamed. The agenda lists all of the studies.
Here are a few:
Why are 401(k)/IRA Balances Substantially Below Potential?
The Impacts of Payday Loan Use on the Financial Well-being of OASDI and SSI Beneficiaries
The Causes and Consequences of State Variation in Healthcare Spending for Individuals with Disabilities
Forecasting Survival by Socioeconomic Status and Implications for Social Security Benefits
What is the Extent of Opioid Use among Disability Applicants? …
Half of the workers who have an employer retirement plan haven’t saved enough to ensure they can retire comfortably.
This 17-minute video might be just the ticket for them.
Kevin Bracker, a finance professor at Pittsburg State University in Kansas, presents a solid retirement strategy to workers with limited resources who need to get smart about saving and investing.
While not exactly a lively speaker, Bracker explains the most important concepts clearly – why starting to save early is important, why index funds are often better than actively managed investments, the difference between Roth and traditional IRAs, etc.
Some of his figures are somewhat different than the data generated by the Center for Retirement Research, which sponsors this blog. But both agree on this: the retirement outlook is worrisome.
The Center estimates that the typical baby boomer household who has an employer 401(k) and is approaching retirement age has only $135,000 in its 401(k)s and IRAs combined. That translates to about $600 a month in retirement.
Future generations who follow Bracker’s basic rules should be better off when they get old. …Learn More
When a Social Security statement comes in the mail, most people do not, as one might suspect, throw it on the pile of envelopes. They actually open it up and read it.
But are they absorbing the statements’ detailed estimates of how much money they’ll get from Social Security? RAND researcher Philip Armour tested this and found that the statement does, in fact, prompt people to stop and think about retirement: workers said their behavior and perceptions of the program changed after seeing the statement of their benefits.
The study was made possible after Social Security introduced a new system for mailing out statements. Workers used to get them in the mail every year. In 2011, the government took a hiatus and stopped sending them out. The mailings resumed in 2014 – but now they go out only before every fifth birthday (ages 25, 30, 35 etc.).
Armour was able to use the infrequent mailings to compare the reactions of the workers who had received a statement with those who had not during a four-year period, 2013-2017.
The statements bolstered their confidence that they could count on Social Security when they retire. More important, receiving them in the mail spurred some people to work more. To be clear, this is what they said – it isn’t known what they actually did.
Those who had been out of the labor market were much more likely, after getting a statement, to say they had returned to work. Working people under age 50 increased their hours of work.
Social Security benefits, on their own, usually are not enough to live on in retirement, and half of U.S. working-age households are at risk of falling short in retirement. But unfortunately, the study wasn’t able to detect another critical aspect of their retirement preparation: saving. …Learn More
There’s an informal rule in journalism: put too many numbers in an article, and readers will drop like flies. A similar phenomenon might also be at work when someone looks at a Social Security statement filled with numbers.
The statement, which is intended to help workers plan for retirement, shows the size of the monthly benefit check increasing incrementally as the claiming age increases. Yet many people still choose to claim their benefits soon after becoming eligible at 62, which means smaller Social Security checks, possibly for decades.
In a recent experiment, a friendlier approach proved effective in helping people process this information: tell a story. Researchers at the Center for Economic and Social Research at the University of Southern California created a fictional 3-minute video of a 62-year-old man talking with a financial adviser about retirement. The researchers showed it to workers between 50 and 60 years old.
Here’s one exchange in the video:
Adviser: [Social Security has] a tradeoff: you can decide to claim earlier. In that case, you would have a lower monthly benefit, but you’d get to enjoy these benefits for a longer period.
Worker: So if I claim sooner, I get less money per month? …Learn More
Self-employed and gig workers who fail to report all of their earnings to the federal government will pay a price: a smaller monthly Social Security check when they retire.
Gauging the magnitude of this problem is tricky since the IRS doesn’t know how much is not being reported by a group of workers not easily identified in the available data. As a first step, new research derived estimates of the unpaid self-employment taxes that result from the under-reporting, using a combination of U.S. Census data on the workers’ incomes and past studies on the prevalence of the problem.
Specifically, the researchers found that more than 3 million self-employed people – construction contractors, small business owners, and other independent contractors – did not disclose some or all of their earnings to the IRS in 2014. This under-reporting translated to unpaid self-employment taxes of $3.9 billion to Social Security and another $900 million to Medicare.
An additional 2.3 million Americans sell goods and services on platforms like Airbnb, Lyft, and Etsy every month. A large share of these gig workers are not reporting all of their income either. Their under-reporting resulted in an estimated non-payment of $2 billion to Social Security and $500 million to Medicare in 2014.
In fact, the estimates are conservative, and the true level of the missing payroll taxes is probably larger, said the study’s authors, a tax expert at American University and a private policy consultant.
Independent contractors are most likely to be baby boomers over 55, while Generation Xers are more common on the online platforms. Self-employed people fail to disclose earnings for a couple of reasons: they are confused about the tax law or they want to increase their disposable income. But responsibility also falls on the platform companies that process payments for their workers and sellers, the researchers said, because the companies are not required to file 1099 earnings forms with the IRS for a majority of their workers.
Whatever the reasons for the underreporting, self-employed workers will one day get less from Social Security. This study raises an obvious question for future research: how much less? …Learn More