Posts Tagged "Social Security"

50 Years of Financial Progress for Women

As the lower-paid sex, women have no shortage of insecurities about their retirement finances.

Only one in five working women feels “very confident” of being able to retire comfortably, the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies reports in its annual retirement survey. More than half say they don’t earn enough or have too much debt to leave a lot of room for saving. Four in 10 expect to retire after 70 or not at all.

These insecurities probably reflect, to some extent, the poor retirement preparedness of Americans as a whole, not just women. In fact, women have made significant strides over the past half century. A new study documenting their personal and economic progress since the 1970s finds that their financial standing, compared with men, has improved.

Granted, women are still a long way from pay parity. But the improvements in retirement preparedness are impressive because they occurred despite the fact that women have become more independent – they are more likely to be living on their own and supporting themselves. Roughly two-thirds of boomer women born after 1953 either have never married or have been divorced for some part of their adult lives, according to the Center for Retirement Research.

What undergirds their personal and financial independence are college degrees and women’s growing participation in the labor force over five decades.

One in three baby boomer women born in the mid-1950s through the mid-1960s has a college degree – twice that of their mothers who were born during the Great Depression. Armed with the degrees, young boomer women flooded into the labor force. Three-fourths were working between their mid-30s and mid-40s, compared with 57 percent employment in the Depression-era cohort at that age. Men’s labor force participation has been much higher historically but barely changes over time.

Black women have always worked more than White women. But they too increased their labor force participation as they gained more education.

So how has women’s robust participation in the work world bolstered their financial security? …Learn More

Readers’ Favorite Retirement Blogs: 2022

Older Americans who want to be smart about retirement finances are curious about the intricacies of Social Security.

The blog that drew the most traffic from our readers last year – “The Bridge to a Larger Social Security Check” – suggested a strategy for getting more out of the program: delay signing up for Social Security by withdrawing savings from a 401(k) to pay the bills.

Each year that Social Security is postponed adds 7 percent to 8 percent to a retiree’s monthly benefit check. A couple of years of delay, funded with savings, can provide significantly more money, month after month, to pay the bills. The researchers concluded from an experiment that asked older workers to consider the delay strategy that a substantial minority “are interested in a bridge option despite its unfamiliarity.”

Another popular blog last year was about an experiment involving another unfamiliar concept fundamental to the program: the Retirement Earnings Test. In “Explaining Social Security’s Earnings Test,” readers learned that any reduction in benefits that occurs if they simultaneously work and collect the benefit in their early to mid-60s is not a tax.

Instead, under Social Security’s rules, some of an older worker’s benefits may be deferred. The benefits are incrementally added back into his monthly checks after he reaches his full retirement age under the program. Understanding that the reduction in benefits is a deferral, rather than an outright cut, is an important aspect of the program that is increasingly important for older workers looking for strategies to improve their standard of living in retirement.

If delaying Social Security is good for older workers’ financial security, the article “COVID’s Impact on Social Security Claiming” delivered a little good news. The generous, extended unemployment benefits approved by Congress made it easier for older workers who lost their jobs during the 2020 spike in unemployment to remain in the labor force rather than sign up early for their benefits and lock in a smaller monthly check.

This positive pandemic trend was a stark contrast to the Great Recession. During months of protracted unemployment following the 2008 financial crisis, jobless older workers became more likely to resort to signing up for Social Security because they needed income.

One aspect of retiring and aging that can really throw a wrench in financial planning is medical costs. In “A Start on Estimating Retiree Medical Costs,” the researcher estimates that retirees with average healthcare needs must cover about 22 percent of their total out-of-pocket costs, excluding premiums, or just over $67,000 in total over their remaining lives. Retirees needing high levels of care can spend twice as much.

Another unknown: long-term care. A study covered in “Spouse in Nursing Home Raises Poverty Risk” finds that one in three married people in their early 70s is likely to have a spouse who will eventually wind up in a nursing home. Not all nursing home stays are for an extended period of time. But if an unlucky spouse does have a long stay, the couple is significantly more likely to become impoverished while paying for the care.

Other popular blog topics in 2022 included Medicare, work, and profiles of individual retirees: …Learn More

Retiring to Care for Grandchild isn’t Unusual

Retirement can change everything. So can grandchildren.

A new study that looks at the transitions made by older workers finds that the odds of relocating after they retire to be closer to their adult children increase from the pre-retirement years – 16 percent of recent retirees do so.

Some people make these moves, to within 10 miles of family, right around the time of retirement, but the relocations are still happening at least four years afterward.

A new grandchild provides an even more compelling reason to move at a time quality childcare is expensive and in short supply. In the study, the researchers found that one in 10 grandparents who, prior to retiring, already considered themselves caregivers for at least one child move closer to the child’s parents. That doubles to two in 10 after they retire.

The probability of making a move is “higher for older adults reporting grandchild care compared to their peers who do not provide such care,” conclude Megan Doherty Bea and Somalis Chy at the University of Wisconsin.

They tracked some 3,000 older workers’ answers to a regular survey during a 12-year period around retirement. The survey collected a range of personal data, including information about their finances, where they live, and whether they spend at least 100 hours a year taking care of grandchildren.

One curious aspect of this study is that retiring and moving doesn’t necessarily mean the person will simultaneously sign up for Social Security benefits, which raises the question of how the new retirees support themselves. …Learn More

The Cost of Having a Disability in COVID

In COVID’s early months, millions of workers’ incomes dried up as the unemployment rate skyrocketed. But older Americans were somewhat shielded from the downturn.

That’s because they either are over 62 and on Social Security or receive federal disability benefits every month at higher rates than young adults. And just like everybody else, they got relief checks from Congress to soften the blow from the pandemic.

Yet, despite the reliability of a government check, older Americans with disabilities suffered from “acute financial insecurity,” according to a new study that seeks to understand why.

During the pandemic, people over the age of 50 with disabilities reported having much more difficulty paying for food than people without a disability. They also showed more signs of financial distress, including missing a payment on a credit card, utility, or medical bill, researcher Zachary Morris found.

But the heart of his analysis of household financial data was confirmation of his suspicion that a loss of income was not the primary reason that financial insecurity increased for people with disabilities during the pandemic.

Much of the strain came from higher spending likely resulting from rising costs for disability-related items such as prescription drugs like insulin, assistive technologies, and personal protective equipment to protect themselves during the stay-at-home orders. A 12 percent increase last year in the cost of home health aides was a prime example that hit people with disabilities particularly hard. …Learn More

Banks Could be More Retiree Friendly

Anyone who has lived paycheck to paycheck is familiar with the headache of overdraft charges.

Due to a slight miscalculation at the end of a tough month, there isn’t enough money in the account to cover a check. The bank pays the check but charges an overdraft fee that drains money out of the account. A negative balance would trigger an overdraft fee on a different check or cause it to bounce.

Of course people should manage their finances responsibly. But the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) argues that older people in particular are at a disadvantage, and perhaps banks should put practices in place that protect them from overdrafts, which the CFPB said produce billions in revenue every year. The agency has also clarified existing regulations to prevent what it calls surprise overdraft fees, including fees charged to customers who write a check that bounces because they deposited someone else’s check that then bounced.

Banks “should promote financial health for older adults rather than erode it,” the agency said. Some institutions have made changes but more could be done. One suggestion: alerting an account holder’s trusted relative or caregiver when a bank balance is dangerously low.

Overdraft fees range from $15 at smaller banks to $35-$37 at major institutions. Some banks limit the fees they charge in a single day to one, but some will charge as many as six a day. “Social Security and a small pension,” a retired steelworker complained to the CFPB, “do not provide extra funds sufficient to pay for any of the cited ‘junk’ fees.”

Retirees’ checking accounts could be handled more carefully for a few different reasons. If they rely heavily on Social Security, they don’t have a big cushion in their checking accounts and must navigate an irregular deposit date for their Social Security checks. …Learn More

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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