Friday, October 19, 2018

CBO Posts Social Security Background Data

Each year, the CBO produces updated Social Security financing projections as part of its Long Term Budget Outlook. Following on from that, the CBO usually produces a second document with additional background information on Social Security alone. This year, CBO skipped the document part and just produced the data used for it, which makes sense since most of that background document is simply charts and tables. Below I’ll just highlight some of the data that spoke to me, but there’s a lot of useful information there for the wonk set.

To start, CBO projects a more pessimistic future for Social Security than do the Social Security Trustees. Over 75-years, the Trustees project an ‘actuarial deficit’ of 2.84% of taxable wages. That means that an immediate and permanent increase of the 12.4% payroll tax to 15.24% would be sufficient to keep the trust funds solvent for 75 years, though not longer. CBO, by contrast, projects a shortfall of 4.44% of payroll; that implies an increase in the payroll tax rate to 16.84%. Not someday, but immediately. Or, if we delay, even bigger increases. Or, alternately, significant benefit reductions.


On that front, this chart shows how much benefits would need to be cut to restore 75-year solvency, based on when the cuts were made and who they applied to. If we cut benefits across the board today, a 27% reduction would suffice to keep Social Security solvent. But if we wait until 2031, we’d need a 31% cut. Alternately, if we cut benefit only for new beneficiaries, to exempt current retirees and the disabled, cuts would vary between 33 and 43%.


This chart shows my preferred measure of benefit adequacy, which is the initial benefit as a percentage of inflation-adjusted career-average earnings. Knowing the current adequacy of benefits for different earner types gives us an idea of how much we could reduce benefits, and for who, without fatally undermining Social Security’s social insurance goals. These figures don’t include auxiliary (spousal) benefits, and they’re calculated net of income taxes levied on retirement benefits (this affects mostly upper earners today, but will hit middle- and upper-income retirees in the future). For middle earners, the average replacement rate declines from 60% for individuals born in the 1940s to 57% for those born in the 2000s. For low earners replacement rates are on the mid-90s throughout, which (IMO) explains many low earners don’t save much for retirement. For high earners replacement rates fall from the high to the mid-30s. While they clearly need to save, by these measures Social Security could cover roughly half an adequate retirement income even for he richest fifth of retirees.


My takeaways:

  • The long-term Social Security shortfall could well be more than we think; anyone who claims it’s a “modest” problem needs to look at CBO’s numbers.
  • No single approach is likely to be politically palatable; the tax increases or benefit cuts alone just won’t fly with Congress or voters. So in practice we’ll need a package that maybe – maybe! – they’ll accept.
  • If we think today’s choices are hard, waiting only makes the choices harder. Congress, being about as present-minded as a 5-year old, usually prefers to kick the can down the road.
  • Finally, Social Security benefits – particularly for the bottom 40% of the population – go a lot further toward providing an adequate retirement income than many people think. There’s room to trim, particularly for middle and high earners, without causing a retirement crisis.
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Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Job opening, Funding Our Future Campaign

Campaign Manager, Funding Our Future Campaign

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

The Bipartisan Policy Center is a non-profit organization that combines the best ideas from both parties to promote health, security, and opportunity for all Americans. BPC drives principled and politically viable policy solutions through the power of rigorous analysis, painstaking negotiation, and aggressive advocacy.

As a leading Washington, DC-based think tank that actively promotes bipartisanship, BC works to address the key challenges facing the nation. Our policy solutions are the product of informed deliberations with former elected and appointed officials, business and labor leaders, and academics and advocates who possess views from across the political spectrum. We are currently focused on policy issues related to health, energy, national and homeland security, the economy, education, immigration, infrastructure, and governance.

In 2016, EPP released the final report of its Commission on Retirement Security and Personal Savings, a two-year effort co-chaired by former Senator Kent Conrad and the Honorable James B. Lockhart III, former Deputy Commissioner of the Social Security Administration. The 19-member commission reached consensus on a comprehensive package of bipartisan recommendations aimed at: increasing access to workplace retirement savings plans, improving financial capability, strengthening Social Security and making it sustainable, and facilitating lifetime-income options to protect against outliving savings.

As part of continuing its work on retirement policy, BPC is currently seeking a Campaign Manager to support the Funding Our Future campaign as part of BPC’s Economic Policy Project (EPP). Funding Our Future was launched early this year by the Bipartisan Policy Center and financial advisor Ric Edelman to raise the profile of challenges facing the American retirement system and to strengthen people’s ability to retire securely in America by improving public policy. The campaign is now made up of a diverse set of more than 30 partner organizations, each with a deep expertise in retirement policy. These partners are combining their voices to strengthen retirement policy in three key areas:

  • Make saving easier for all ages
  • Help people transform their nest egg into a lifetime of income
  • Save Social Security

The position of Funding Our Future Campaign Manager is a versatile one and involves a variety of tasks, often simultaneously. The manager will be responsible for executing the day-to-day activities of the Funding Our Future campaign, including coordinating with the campaign’s partners, working closely with other BPC staff to develop content for the campaign, and ensuring that the campaign is effectively achieving its goals. The position will report to the director of economic policy and work closely with others on BPC’s economic policy team.

Specifically, the manager will have the following responsibilities:

  • Coordinate day-to-day campaign activities and workflow, including organizing and executing events, managing and contributing to development of the campaign website and other research content, and coordinating with campaign partners
  • Manage the campaign’s social media accounts and identify ways to increase the scope and quality of the campaign’s media presence
  • Coordinate integration of the campaign with BPC Action and BPC functional areas including development, operations, and communications teams
  • Conduct research into specific issue areas related to retirement security and policy
  • Manage planning, coordination, and execution of local public and private external stakeholder meetings and events
  • Provide administrative support by scheduling meetings with BPC staff, campaign leadership, consultants, and external organizations; arranging travel and accommodations for project members and meeting attendees; planning logistics for project-related meetings; and managing reimbursements
  • Prepare agendas for, attend, and take and circulate notes on all campaign meetings
  • Draft external communications, advocacy, and development documents
  • Represent the campaign at select external meetings/events, including congressional briefings, conferences, stakeholder roundtables, and other events as needed

Periodically, opportunities will arise to contribute to new or expanding projects in other policy or functional areas.

  • Computer skills required. Experience with and knowledge of Microsoft Office Suite
  • Attention to detail a must, including the ability to quickly and accurately proofread project documents
  • Ability to communicate effectively in oral and written forms is essential
  • Strong interpersonal and problem-solving skills
  • Ability to multi-task and effectively prioritize competing deadlines in a fast-paced environment
  • Works well independently and as part of a team
  • Event planning and coordination experience
  • Knowledge and interest in retirement policy, experience conducting policy research, and experience in project management a plus
  • Applicant must minimally have completed a four-year undergraduate degree. At least three years of work experience (or a graduate degree and some work experience) is strongly preferred.

BPC offers a highly competitive salary and provides generous benefits. Individuals interested in this position should send a resume, cover letter, writing sample, transcript (if a recent graduate), and references to Please include the title of this job, Campaign Manager, Funding Our Future, in the subject line of the application email.

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Monday, August 20, 2018

New issue of Social Security Bulletin Released

Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 78, No. 3

(released August 2018)
by Joelle Saad-Lessler, Teresa Ghilarducci, and Gayle L. Reznik
Changes in accumulated retirement savings, particularly in employer-sponsored defined contribution (DC) plan balances, differ by worker earnings levels. Earnings shocks, portfolio diversification, and employer contributions to workers’ DC plans affect retirement savings for lower earners more than for higher earners. The authors match Survey of Income and Program Participation data to Social Security Administration earnings records and find factors underlying the different retirement savings outcomes by earnings level beyond mere differences in earnings.
by Thomas M. Fraker, Joyanne Cobb, Jeffrey Hemmeter, Richard G. Luecking, and Arif Mamun
This article summarizes findings from randomized controlled trials of six Youth Transition Demonstration projects that were funded by the Social Security Administration. The projects provided specialized employment-focused services and enhanced disability program work incentives for youths aged 14–25 with disabilities. Three of the projects had positive and statistically significant effects on employment rates in the third year after youths enrolled in project evaluations.
by Joyanne Cobb, David C. Wittenburg, and Cara Stepanczuk
The Social Security Administration funded the West Virginia Youth Works intervention as part of the Youth Transition Demonstration (YTD) to improve the employment and independent-living outcomes of youths with disabilities. This project was one of six that constituted the full YTD evaluation. This article examines Youth Works implementation and outcomes to provide a potential case study for other states interested in expanding services to youths with disabilities.
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Thursday, August 9, 2018

SSA Job Opening: Deputy Chief Actuary, Short-Range

The Social Security Administration (SSA) is looking for an executive to serve in a leadership role within its Office of the Chief Actuary (OCACT) as the Deputy Chief Actuary for Short-Range Actuarial Estimates.  The complete vacancy announcement can be found on USAJOBS at SSA-EX-504.  The Deputy Chief Actuary will report directly to the Chief Actuary in Woodlawn, MD. The vacancy is open now through September 4, 2018.

The OCACT has agency-wide responsibility for:

  • Actuarial estimates for SSA programs and projected changes;
  • Evaluating operations and estimating future operations of the Federal Old-Age and Survivors Insurance Trust Fund and the Federal Disability Insurance Trust Fund;
  • Conducting studies of program financing; and
  • Performing actuarial and demographic research on social insurance and related program issues.

The Deputy Chief Actuary has responsibility for:

  • Planning, directing, and coordinating the development of short-range cost estimates;
  • Developing special cost analyses involving technical actuarial issues;
  • Projecting short range operations of the Trust Funds;
  • Projecting expenditures under the Supplemental Security Income program;
  • Providing a variety of data services including data collection and statistical support; and
  • Advising the Chief Actuary on all matters of concern and serves as an actuarial consultant to the Commissioner of Social Security.

Candidates for the position must have professional experience at a senior level (equivalent to the GS-15 in either the General Schedule or a comparable pay plan) and provide evidence of meeting the educational requirement for the 1510 Actuarial Science Series.  Applicants must demonstrate via their resume and application their level of experience for each of the executive core qualifications that are included in the job posting, as well as address each of the mandatory technical qualifications to substantiate their technical knowledge and abilities.

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Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Upcoming event: Social Security Advisory Board. Moving Forward - Implementing Changes in the Representative Payee Program

Social Security Advisory Board

Moving Forward - Implementing Changes in the Representative Payee Program

On Friday, September 7, 2018, the Social Security Advisory Board (SSAB) will host a day-long forum on the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) representative payee program. This forum continues SSAB’s longstanding effort to support and improve a vital government program serving approximately eight million people who need assistance in managing benefits provided by the SSA.

This forum brings policymakers, practitioners and researchers together to explore how SSA can study and improve the representative payee selection process with an evidence-based approach. Recent legislation, “The Strengthening Protections for Social Security Beneficiaries Act of 2018” (H.R. 4547) makes this event especially timely.

During the forum, you will hear about:

  • how the new legislation sets a roadmap for program reform from congressional staff.
  • how the current order of selection might be improved.
  • particular challenges facing organizational payees and what might be done to meet them.
  • how SSA can improve the data flow to support research that can improve the program.

Location: The U.S. Capitol Visitor Center (HVC–201AB) Washington, DC, 20515

Keep checking back on our website for updates.

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Wednesday, July 25, 2018

NBER Summer Institute Social Security Papers

SI 2018 Social Security

Jeffrey B. Liebman, Organizer

July 25, 2018

Supported by the National Institute on Aging and the Social Security Administration

Summer Institute 2018 master schedule

Wednesday, July 25

Kathleen J. Mullen, RAND Corporation
Stephanie L. Rennane, RAND Corporation
The Effect of Unconditional Cash Transfers on the Return to Work of Permanently Disabled Workers

Andreas Haller, University of Zurich
Stefan Staubli, University of Calgary and NBER
Josef Zweimueller, University of Zurich
Tightening Disability Screening Or Reducing Disability Benefits? Evidence and Welfare Implications

Symposium on Disability Insurance
Karen Glenn, Social Security Administration
Stephen Goss, Social Security Administration
Nicole Maestas, Harvard University and NBER
Jeffrey B. Liebman, Harvard University and NBER

Jonathan Gruber, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and NBER
Ohto Kanninen, Labor Institute for Economic Research
The Effect of Relabeling and Incentives on Retirement: Evidence from a Pension Reform

Antoine Bozio, Institute for Fiscal Studies
Thomas Breda, Paris School of Economics
Julien Grenet, Paris School of Economics
Tax-benefit linkage and Incidence of Social Security Contributions: Evidence from France

Kathleen McKiernan, University of Minnesota
Welfare Impacts of Social Security Reform: The Case of Chile in 1981

Gopi Shah Goda, Stanford University and NBER
Matthew Levy, London School of Economics
Colleen Flaherty Manchester, University of Minnesota
Aaron Sojourner, University of Minnesota
Joshua Tasoff, Claremont Graduate University
Mechanisms behind Retirement Saving Behavior: Evidence from Administrative and Survey Data

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Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Hearing July 25th: How the Multiemployer Pension System Affects Stakeholders



How the Multiemployer Pension System Affects Stakeholders
Wednesday, July 25, 2018

215 Dirksen Senate Office Building

10:00 AM

Hearing will be webcast

The following witnesses are scheduled to testify:

Mr. James P. Naughton, Assistant Professor and Donald P. Jacobs Scholar, Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University, Chicago, IL

Mr. Joshua D. Rauh, Ph.D, Director of Research and Senior Fellow, Hoover Institution, Stanford University, Stanford, CA

Mr. Kenneth Stribling, Retired Teamster, Milwaukee, WI

Mr. Timothy P. Lynch, Senior Director Government Relations Practice, Morgan, Lewis, and  Bockius LLP, Annapolis, MD

Senator Hatch's Statement|Senator Brown's Statement

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