Posts Tagged "workers"

One Reason the US Labor Force is Shrinking

U.S. industries have become increasingly concentrated in the 21st century, leaving fewer employers in local labor markets. This is not good for workers.

The simplest example is a town with one company in the business of producing widgets. The company has little competition when hiring widget workers and can pay them lower wages.

A new study finds that the increase in employer concentration – one or a few firms that dominate locally – has played a role in the 20-year decline in labor force participation in the United States. When workers have fewer employment options and wages are lower, looking for and finding a job is a more difficult, less fruitful pursuit. Some give up and drop out of the labor force.

Employer concentration “push[es] marginally attached workers out of the labor force entirely,” concluded Anqi Chen, Laura Quinby and Gal Wettstein at the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.

Their research builds on several recent studies showing that when firms possess more bargaining power with workers, they can drive down wages. This new study is the first to make a direct link between employer concentration and its impact on employment activity.

Labor force participation – the share of adults of all ages who are either working or looking for a job – is lower in concentrated markets, the researchers found. Actual employment levels are also lower, though this is mainly the case for teenagers and workers in their 20s. …
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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

Money puzzle

Is Americans’ Savings Buffer Wearing Thin?

COVID has worn Americans down emotionally. But it might be eating away at their financial reserves too – at least for some people.

As the pandemic has dragged on, many people said in newly released surveys that they are more anxious about their finances and feel that their savings are wearing thin.

We won’t get a true picture of the pandemic’s impact until it is far away in the rear-view mirror. For one thing, Congress’ intent when it doled out historic amounts of cash assistance to workers was to carry them through the COVID lockdowns and resulting unemployment. And it worked.

After federal relief checks were deposited into bank accounts, the saving rate shot up to about 34 percent in April 2020 and to almost 27 percent in March 2021 – the highest levels this country has seen in decades. The rate has floated down to single digits as people have spent the extra money but remains relatively high.

Recent job gains and wage increases should also bolster balance sheets. Businesses added 626,000 more jobs in June through September than the U.S. Department of Labor had originally estimated, and October was a blockbuster month, with 531,000 new jobs created. In the November jobs report, unemployment hit a pre-pandemic low of 4.2 percent.

But these signs of progress are mixed in with feelings of unease. One thing is clear from surveys of workers by T. Rowe Price, said Joshua Dietch, vice president: The challenges that existed before COVID “didn’t get any lighter as a result of the pandemic.”

NPR also fielded a financial survey in August and September of this year. More than a third of U.S. households said they are having “serious financial problems.” And the workers who have suffered the most during the economic downturn last year – people of color – are in the worst shape: more than half of Black, Hispanic, and Native American households said their financial problems were serious.

A deterioration in savings could be behind that feeling of financial insecurity. Nearly 40 percent of households in NPR’s survey with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health said they have no “savings to fall back on” – that is double the share who reported having no savings prior to COVID. The share of Blacks, Hispanics, and Native Americans who lack savings also doubled, though to much higher levels of 63 percent, 56 percent, and 55 percent, respectively. …Learn More

Working Multiple Jobs to Make Ends Meet

If people need to work and can work, they will work. That’s my takeaway from a new set of data that sketches a clearer picture of U.S. workers who are holding down multiple jobs.

US workers with more than one jobNearly 8 percent of workers had two or more jobs in 2018, the latest year of data available from the U.S. Census Bureau. The data also show that holding two or more jobs becomes more common during economic expansions, when jobs are plentiful, and falls during recessions, when the opportunities dry up.

But the longer-term trend is up: the share of people holding multiple jobs has slowly increased over the past two decades. In a recent webinar, Census Bureau economist James Spletzer provided a couple of reasons.

First, the country has lost millions of manufacturing jobs over several decades. They have been replaced by lower-quality jobs in retail and in service industries like health care, hotels and food preparation – and that’s where multiple job holders tend to work.

A second, related reason for working in multiple jobs is the “stagnation of earnings at the lower end of the earnings distribution,” Spletzer said. …Learn More

UK Pension Reforms Show Some Promise

woman in the UK on her phone

Unlike the United States, the United Kingdom has implemented bold reforms to its retirement system over the past decade.

Two of the biggest changes were gradual increases in the minimum age for collecting a pension under the national social security program and requiring private employers to automatically enroll their workers in an employee savings plan.

The goals of the reforms were to keep government spending in check and encourage individuals – who are living longer – to work longer, while helping them build up more private savings through employer-based plans. On balance, the notion is that workers will end up better prepared financially when they retire. Time will tell how successful these reforms will ultimately be.

But, so far, the results have been somewhat promising, concludes an Institute of Fiscal Studies report on workers’ changing expectations and attitudes about their retirement prospects.

In a major reform to private-sector plans, lawmakers started expanding coverage in 2012 by requiring that employers – the largest ones were first –  automatically enroll workers earning more than £10,000 (about $14,000) in a retirement savings plan. The total contributions to the plans must now be at least 8 percent of each worker’s earnings, with employers providing at least 3 percent.

This reform seems to have enhanced workers’ sense of financial security. In 2017, 78 percent said in a survey that they expect to get some retirement income from an employer savings plan – up from 63 percent in 2013. And while workers are permitted to opt out of the plans, they are doing so at consistently low rates.

On the retirement front, the minimum age to collect benefits under the U.K. social security system, the National Insurance Scheme, has risen dramatically for women. A decade ago, they could collect a pension at 60, but that had increased to 66 by last year. They are now in line with men, whose minimum age was 65 for many years and also rose to 66 last year. In the future, the increases are expected to continue: a 50-year-old worker would not be able to collect his pension until he is 68. …Learn More

Street worker working at night

Public-Sector Disability is Fairly Generous

About one in four state and local government employees – some 6.5 million people – do not participate in the Social Security system. They get their disability insurance, as well as their pensions, from their employers.

Whether the coverage is more or less generous than Social Security disability depends on the individual worker’s circumstance and how the state or local employer calculates benefits. But a new study concludes that public-sector workers who have a disability generally receive benefits that are at least as generous as the federal benefits.

To compare them, researchers at the Center for Retirement Research had to construct a database with each state’s and locality’s eligibility requirements and benefit payments. The sample consisted of 67 different disability programs, which cover a majority of the U.S. workers who don’t pay into Social Security.

The main thing Social Security and the public-sector have in common is eligibility – a 35-year-old must have five years of employment to receive federal disability and four to six years under most public-sector programs. One way they differ is that most state and local governments have a more liberal definition of what qualifies as a disability. Social Security pays benefits to a worker who can no longer do any job. Public-sector benefits go to a worker who can’t continue doing his current job.

The disability benefits are also calculated differently. Social Security’s progressive formula is the most generous to low-wage workers, because it replaces a higher percentage of their past earnings. But each state and local government uses the same formula for all of its workers, regardless of their earnings, and the formula gives more credit to employees who have been with their employer the longest.

What does all this add up to? The older public-sector workers, who are most at risk of developing a disability, receive relatively generous protection under the state and local programs, because the eligibility requirements are less strict than Social Security’s and because the benefits for most long-tenured employees replace a higher percentage of their earnings.

Older people who moved into the public sector late in their careers are in a different situation. …Learn More

Market Drops Hit Those Who Don’t Invest

Photo of the cast of Sweat

Photo by T. Charles Erickson

How fitting that I would see the play “Sweat” on Feb. 28 – a Friday night at the end of a week in which the stock market dropped 12 percent and the specter of recession reared its ugly head.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning “Sweat” – I saw the Boston revival – is about the havoc the boom-bust economy and falling financial markets wreak on working people’s employment security and their personal lives. In fact, the timeline of the play is bracketed by 2000, when the stock market crashed, and 2008, when it crashed again.

At the beginning of each scene, a voice-over broadcasts the day’s bad financial news. The stock market never crosses the lips of the characters in the play, which is set in a local bar that is the social center of the working class town of Reading, Pennsylvania. Their chief concern is the fate of their jobs at the steel tubing plant. But the unspoken stock market is an invisible character shaping their plight.

Playwright Lynn Nottage got her inspiration for “Sweat” during visits to Reading over 2½ years. Two female characters and each of their sons work at the plant – very typical of a factory town. The bartender used to work there until he injured his leg. An immigrant who is a busboy at the bar briefly gets a shot at the American dream as a scab worker when the company locks the union out of the plant. There is tension between the immigrant and the long-time residents, and between the assembly line workers and the one worker who is promoted to management. But in the end, all of their lives are tragically upended by the plant closing.

Factories began shutting down in the 1980s, in part because U.S. manufacturers learned they could hire workers at much lower wages overseas. But manufacturing’s long-term decline was perpetuated by the 2001 recession, which was triggered by a market drop, and a second recession that began with the 2008 market collapse.

Which brings us to 2020. …Learn More