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
December 13, 2018
Reducing Poverty for Our Oldest Retirees
With more Americans today living into their 80s and beyond, the elderly are becoming more vulnerable to slipping into poverty.
To reduce the poverty risk facing the oldest retirees, some policy experts have proposed increasing Social Security benefits for everyone at age 85. Under one common proposal analyzed by the Center for Retirement Research in a new report, the current benefit at this age would increase by
The poverty rate for people over 85 is 12 percent, compared with 8 percent for new retirees. But more elderly people may actually be living on the edge, because the income levels that define poverty for them are so low: less than $11,757 for a single person and less than $14,817 for couples.
One reason the oldest retirees are especially vulnerable is that their medical expenses are rising as their health is deteriorating, yet they’re too old to defray the expense by working. This is occurring at the same time that the value of their employer pensions – if they have one – has been severely eroded by inflation after many years of retirement.
Further, elderly women are more likely to be poor than men, because wives usually outlive their husbands, which triggers a big drop in income that is generally not fully offset by a drop in their expenses.
Limiting the 5 percent benefit increase to the oldest retirees would ease poverty while containing the cost. …Learn More
November 27, 2018
Senior Housing Shortage is Getting Worse
Nearly 10 million seniors are having difficulty paying for housing – and the problem is growing.
Housing experts typically recommend that people keep their housing costs below a third of their income. But one in three Americans over age 65 are spending more than that on their rent or mortgage payment, utilities, property insurance, maintenance, and other housing costs, according to a new study, “Housing America’s Older Adults,” by Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies.
If the senior housing problem hasn’t reached crisis proportions yet, Jennifer Molinsky, who wrote the center’s report, predicted that it will if nothing is done to increase the supply of housing structures that are both affordable and age-friendly to meet the needs of aging baby boomers. The number of households over 80 will more than double over the next 20 years, the housing center estimates.
“Unless we create more options for people at the middle- and lower-income levels, we are going to be seeing that people have fewer choices and that they’re forced into options they don’t want,” she said. …Learn More
November 8, 2018
A Proposal to Reduce Widows’ Poverty
A dramatic decline in widow’s poverty over a quarter century has been a positive outcome of more women going to college and moving into the labor force.
Yet 15 percent of widows are still poor – three times the poverty rate for married women.
A new study by the Center for Retirement Research takes a fresh look at Social Security’s widow benefits and finds that increasing them “could be a well-targeted way” to further reduce poverty.
Widows are vulnerable to being poor for several reasons. The main reason is that the income coming into a household declines when the husband dies. The number of Social Security checks drops from two to one, and any employer pension the husband received is reduced, or even eliminated if the couple didn’t opt for the pension’s joint-and-survivor annuity.
While one person can live more cheaply than two, the drop in income for new widows often isn’t accompanied by a commensurate drop in expenses.
Another issue begins to develop as much as 10 years before a husband dies. Prior to his death, his declining health may increase the couple’s medical expenses and reduce his ability to work, depleting the couple’s – and ultimately the widow’s – resources.
The irony today for wives who worked is that their decades in the labor force generally improve their financial prospects when they become widowed. Yet, under Social Security’s longstanding design, they receive less generous benefits than housewives – relative to the household’s benefits prior to the husband’s death. …Learn More
October 30, 2018
Retire in Boston or in Naples, Florida?
My husband is newly retired, and we’ve spent hours talking about where we might want to live after I retire in a few years. Our imagined scenarios are always changing.
But I’m clear on one thing: I do not want to buy a house in Naples, Florida, where a couple we know did recently. No offense to Naples, which has lots to recommend it – no shoveling! But the typical resident is 65 years old. In fact, Naples is older than the state of Florida, where retirement communities are so pervasive that they distinguish between the “young-old” (ages 60-75) and the “old-old” (over 75).
Boston, where my husband and I live now, couldn’t be more different. It is swarming with college students and young people, including his two sons and daughter-in-law. Boston’s young people work in rapidly changing industries like high-tech or environmental engineering, and I like it that way. Boston’s median age is 32 – half of Naples.
As I get closer to retiring and am faced with change, I think to myself, “Who wants to live in the midst of a bunch of old people like me?”
But that’s precisely what many retirees do. There are many examples of cities that have moved dramatically in the direction of one or the other extremes – Boston or Naples; Madison, Wisconsin, or Scottsdale, Arizona. The Wall Street Journal reported that new retirement communities are popping up in places that weren’t traditional resting places for snowbirds: retired baby boomers’ net migration to the Appalachian region where Georgia, North Carolina, and Tennessee converge has quadrupled since 2011.
This age segregation is a relatively new area of interest to demographers. Almost 60 percent of the neighborhoods and other subdivisions within U.S. counties have moderate or high levels of segregation, which is similar in degree to the level of segregation between the U.S. Hispanic and white populations, Richelle Winkler found in a 2013 study of federal Census data.
Age segregation also occurs in rural areas, as younger people leave for jobs and older people move in. In some rural parts of the Great Plains, Winkler writes, there are two times more seniors than young adults. …Learn More
June 14, 2018
Health in Old Age: the Great Unknown
This cartoon, by Vancouver Sun cartoonist Graham Harrop, hits on one of retirees’ biggest mysteries: their future health.
The elderly live with the anxiety of getting a grave illness that isn’t easy to fix, such as cancer or a stroke. And despite having Medicare insurance, they also have to worry how much it would cost them and whether they would run through all of their savings.
They’re right to worry. Health care costs increase as people age from their 50s into their 60s and 70s. About one in five baby boomers between 55 and 64 pays extraordinary out-of-pocket medical expenses in any given year. But by 75, the odds increase to one in four, according to a report summarizing the reasons that some seniors’ finances become fragile.
Large, unexpected medical expenses are one of two major financial shocks that threaten their security – widowhood is the other. A small and unlucky share of retirees will find it difficult to absorb a spike in their medical costs, forcing them to cut back on food or medications, the report said.
Harrop’s cartoon is the product of his cousin’s inspired suggestion that he fill a book with cartoons about the humorous accommodations made between couples who’ve lived together for decades. The book – “Living Together after Retirement: or, There’s a Spouse in the House” – reveals his personal knowledge of the subject. Harrop, who is 73, has lived with his partner, Annie, for more than 20 years.Learn More
April 3, 2018
Dependence on Social Security is Striking
A retiree’s sources of money are often described as a three-legged stool: Social Security, pension, and savings.
But many seniors’ financial support looks more like a single, sturdy pillar: Social Security.
This is shown dramatically in new U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) estimates of just how critical the federal program is to millions of older Americans. The data speak for themselves:
- One in two retired households counts on Social Security for at least 50 percent of their total income.
- One in four gets virtually all income – 90 percent – from the program.
The differences among myriad demographic groups also follow the usual socioeconomic patterns, according to the SSA researchers, Irena Dushi, Howard M. Iams, and Brad Trenkamp. …Learn More