Wednesday, September 17, 2008

New report: Distributional Analysis of Pension and Social Security Reforms

The Urban Institute today released a new report on how to conduct distributional analysis of retirement income, based on an expert panel that met back in April. I was a part of the panel, based on having worked with Social Security's MINT model during my time at SSA. The other members of the panel were Gary Burtless, The Brookings Institution; Stephen Goss, Social Security Administration; Joyce Manchester, Congressional Budget Office; and Paul van de Water, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. A number of analysts from the Urban Institute took part, including Eric Toder, who organized the meeting; Barbara Butrica; Melissa Favreault; Gordon Mermin; Karen Smith; Eugene Steuerle; Roberton Williams; and Sheila Zedlewski.

Here's a summary of the report:

In April 2008, the Urban Institute convened an expert panel of researchers inside and outside of government agencies to discuss how best to perform distributional analyses of proposals to reform Social Security and private pensions. The panel discussed key technical issues, including how to measure the baseline income distribution and characterize current policies, how to address changes that alter the timing of taxes and benefits, and how to measure and report gains and losses from policy interventions. The group revealed diverse viewpoints, but we conclude that current methods used in recent UI research fall within the range of reasonable alternatives.

Urban's distributional work is already top-notch, but it's a good sign that they're continually re-evaluating their methods. The report is on the wonky side, but it reflects the important methodological choices analysts have to make and how these choices can alter how we view a given set of data. Click here for the full report.

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