Monday, August 31, 2015

Catching up on Social Security in the press

I’ve been out of town quite a bit lately without the chance to highlight press articles on Social Security that may be of interest. Here’s a recent run-down.

O'Malley to propose expansion of Social Security benefits, other measures to aid seniors - Washington Post

Rubio: 'Time has passed' for Social Security privatization - Washington Examiner

Another View - Martin O'Malley: To ensure retirement security, let's start by expanding Social Security The Union Leader

Most consumers don't regret decision to claim Social Security benefits early Columbus Dispatch

Stock Market Crash No Argument Against Social Security Accounts Cato Institute

What If Your Social Security Was Riding the Wall Street Roller Coaster too? National Committee to Preserve Social Security & Medicare

The Stock Market Drop Exposes The Dangers Of Privatizing Social Security ThinkProgress

Even Before Stock Market Swoon, 2016 Republicans Mum On Social Security Privatization Bloomberg

Would Jeb Bush's Plan to Reform Social Security Actually Work? - The Times

Ten Common Myths About Social Security Forbes

The Truth About Social Security's Long Term Finances Forbes

Martin O'Malley wants boosts to Social Security that even Bernie Sanders hasn't called for Vox

O'Malley: Expand Social Security With Tax on High Earners Bloomberg

The GOP Candidates' Attacks on Social Security Are Attacks on Women Slate Magazine

A New Front in the ‘War on Women’ National Review

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New paper: “The Welfare Economics of Default Options in 401(k) Plans”

From the American Economic Review:

The Welfare Economics of Default Options in 401(k) Plans

B. Douglas Bernheim, Andrey Fradkin and Igor Popov

Default contribution rates for 401(k) pension plans powerfully influence choices. Potential causes include opt-out costs, procrastination, inattention, and psychological anchoring. Using realistically parameterized models, we show how the optimal default, the magnitude of the welfare effects, and the degree of normative ambiguity depend on the behavioral model, the scope of the choice domain deemed welfare-relevant, the use of penalties for passive choice, and other 401(k) plan features. While results are theory-specific, our analysis provides reasonably robust justifications for setting the default either at the highest contribution rate matched by the employer or—contrary to common wisdom—at zero. (JEL D14, D91, J26, J32)

Full-Text Access | Supplementary Materials

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Friday, August 28, 2015

Events, awards and job postings from the National Academy of Social Insurance

National Academy of Social Insurance

[EVENT] Social Security – It Pays to Educate at the National Urban League

The Academy co-hosted a convening on August 25 with the National Urban League Washington Bureau, as part of an ongoing partnership centered on the Academy’s public education initiative and older workers’ toolkit, When to Take Social Security: It Pays to Wait. Academy Members Bill Spriggs, Chief Economist of the AFL-CIO, and Monique Morrissey, Economist at the Economic Policy Institute, as well as the Academy’s Kristen Arnold and Ben Veghte, presented information on the importance of the program to communities of color, things for older workers to consider before taking Social Security benefits, and policy options to strengthen the program. A robust discussion followed by attendees from prominent labor, African American, financial, and women’s organizations. The Academy looks forward to future work with the National Urban League Washington Bureau. Contact Kristen Arnold ( with questions about the initiative or for free copies of the Academy’s toolkit resources.

DEADLINE EXTENDED: Law Student Writing Award & Dissertation Award 

In order to better accommodate the schedules of students and professors, the Academy has extended the deadline for nominations of its two writing awards, which recognize superb scholarship on social insurance issues. Each award is $2,500.

Nominations for both are now due by October 1, 2015. ​The awards will be bestowed at NASI’s annual policy research conference in Washington, DC on January 27, 2016.

We’re Hiring!: Health Policy Analyst Position Opening

The National Academy of Social Insurance seeks a mid-level Policy Analyst to work on a wide range of social insurance issues involving Medicare, Medicaid, long-term services and supports and health care reform implementation. The analyst provides direct research, program and administrative support to the Vice President for Policy and other Academy members and staff as needed. Please spread word of this opening to your networks. Read the full posting.

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CRFB: “Are Social Security Benefits Modest?”

It depends on how you measure them. Check out the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget’s whole discussion here.

For myself, I tend to think a replacement rate (properly measured) is a better measure of relative generosity than absolute dollars, both because it captures retirement income adequacy and because it implicitly looks at tax rates, which are also a percentage of earnings. For instance, when we compare pension taxes we tend to look at rates rather than absolute dollars. All that said, these are issues that don’t get nearly enough attention – and I’m glad the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget is adding that.

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Bipartisan Policy Center: “Improve the SSDI Program and Address the Impending Trust Fund Depletion”

Consensus Recommendations of BPC’s Disability Insurance Working Group

The Bipartisan Policy Center convened the Disability Insurance Working Group in 2014. The group includes individuals from across the ideological spectrum with a variety of backgrounds and viewpoints, including academics, policy researchers, advocates for people with disabilities, representatives of the labor and business communities, and former congressional and agency staff. Working group members share an urgent concern to address the impending exhaustion of the Disability Insurance Trust Fund and to improve the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program to better meet the needs of Americans with disabilities. There is shared recognition that a bipartisan approach will be necessary and that there are ways in which the program could be improved. While many members of the group would not endorse every provision herein on a stand-alone basis, they have agreed to support the complete package.

Read the whole report here.

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New paper: “Can Policy Facilitate Partial Retirement? Evidence from Germany”

Can Policy Facilitate Partial Retirement? Evidence from Germany

Peter Berg, Mary K. Hamman, Matthew Piszczek, Christopher J. Ruhm

NBER Working Paper No. 21478
Issued in August 2015
NBER Program(s):   AG LS PE

In 1996, Germany introduced the Altersteilzeit (ATZ) law, which encouraged longer working lives through partial retirement incentives. Using matched pension system and establishment survey data, we estimate changes in part-time employment and retirement after ATZ. We find the policy induced growth in part-time work for men and extended men's expected duration of employment by 1.8 years. As the policy evolved to include an abrupt retirement option, the worklife gain for men fell to 1.2 years. Among women, part-time employment grew less and employment duration changed little initially but later declined by 0.2 years when abrupt retirement became available.

Click here to access.

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Smith: “Social Security is not an anti-poverty program”

Brenton Smith, writing for The Hill, states that

“One of the most pervasive myths in the debate about Social Security promotes the role of the program in the alleviation of poverty. Common sense should tell us that something is amiss with this endearing myth. Social Security does not pay a penny of benefit based on need.  The system does not even have visibility into need. So at best any benefit that goes to a poor person is more a matter of luck than systemic policy.”

I don’t agree with all of his argument, but he makes a point: as a social insurance program, Social Security is far from perfect. Check out my 2009 paper, “Will Your Social Insurance Pay Off? Making Social Security Progressivity Work for Low-Income Retirees.”

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