Wednesday, October 19, 2011

New papers from the Social Science Research Network


"Employment-Based Retirement Plan Participation: Geographic Differences and Trends, 2010" 
EBRI Issue Brief, No. 363, October 2011

CRAIG COPELAND, Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI)

This paper examines the level of participation by workers in public- and private-sector employment-based pension or retirement plans, based on the U.S. Census Bureau's March 2011 Current Population Survey (CPS), the most recent data currently available (for year-end 2010). Among all working-age (21-64) wage and salary employees, 54.2 percent worked for an employer or union that sponsored a retirement plan in 2010. Among full-time, full-year wage and salary workers ages 21-64 (those with the strongest connection to the work force), 61.6 percent worked for an employer or union that sponsors a plan. Among full-time, full-year wage and salary workers ages 21-64, 54.5 percent participated in a retirement plan. This is virtually unchanged from 54.4 percent in 2009. Participation trends increased significantly in the late 1990s, and decreased in 2001 and 2002. In 2003 and 2004, the participation trend flattened out. The retirement plan participation level subsequently declined in 2005 and 2006, before a significant increase in 2007. Slight declines occurred in 2008 and 2009, followed by a flattening out of the trend in 2010. Participation increased with age (61.4 percent for wage and salary workers ages 55-64, compared with 29.2 percent for those ages 21-24). Among wage and salary workers ages 21-64, men had a higher participation level than women, but among full-time, full-year workers, women had a higher percentage participating than men (55.5 percent for women, compared with 53.8 percent for men). Female workers' lower probability of participation among wage and salary workers results from their overall lower earnings and lower rates of full-time work in comparison with males. Hispanic wage and salary workers were significantly less likely than both white and black workers to participate in a retirement plan. The gap between the percentages of black and white plan participants that exists overall narrows when compared across earnings levels. Wage and salary workers in the South and West had the lowest participation levels (Florida had the lowest percentage, at 43.7 percent) while the upper Midwest, Mid-Atlantic, and Northeast had the highest levels (West Virginia had the highest participation level, at 64.2 percent). White, more highly educated, higher-income, and married workers are more likely to participate than their counterparts.

While individual factors are important, retirement plan participation by workers is also strongly tied to macroeconomic factors such as stock market returns and the labor market. Better macroeconomic conditions of the late 1990s resulted in higher levels of participation, while less positive macroeconomic conditions of the 2000s led to lower levels of participation. Regardless of the current direction, this trend has important implications for workers, since having more opportunities to participate in an employment-based retirement plan greatly increases the amount of money a retiree is likely to have in retirement. The downturns in the economy and stock market in 2008 and into 2009 showed a two-year decline in both the number and percentage of workers participating in an employment-based retirement plan. The 2010 levels stabilized as the economy was more stable but not experiencing strong growth, so these levels were just above the lowest levels set in 1997. The economy has improved but is still stagnant, which is likely to mean the 2011 numbers will see essentially no change or a decrease.

"Do Low-Income Workers Benefit from 401(K) Plans?" 
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper No. 2011-14

ERIC J. TODER, Urban Institute
KAREN E. SMITH, Urban Institute

Economists frequently assume that employees "pay for" employer-provided fringe benefits, such as contributions to retirement plans, in the form of reduced wages. Because low-income employees receive little tax benefit from saving in qualified retirement plans, however, and may prefer immediate consumption to additional retirement accruals, they may not be willing to accept a one dollar reduction in their wage in return for an additional dollar contributed to their 401(k) plan, while high income workers may be willing to give up more than a dollar in wages to get the tax benefit.

"Effects of Legal and Unauthorized Immigration on the US Social Security System" 
Levy Economics Institute of Bard College Working Paper No. 689

SELCUK EREN, Bard College - Levy Economics Institute
HUGO BENÍTEZ-SILVA, affiliation not provided to SSRN
EVA CARCELES-POVEDA, State University of New York (SUNY), Stony Brook - Department of Economics

Immigration is having an increasingly important effect on the social insurance system in the United States. On the one hand, eligible legal immigrants have the right to eventually receive pension benefits but also rely on other aspects of the social insurance system such as health care, disability, unemployment insurance, and welfare programs, while most of their savings have direct positive effects on the domestic economy. On the other hand, most undocumented immigrants contribute to the system through taxed wages but are not eligible for these programs unless they attain legal status, and a large proportion of their savings translates into remittances that have no direct effects on the domestic economy. Moreover, a significant percentage of immigrants migrate back to their countries of origin after a relatively short period of time, and their savings while in the United States are predominantly in the form of remittances. Therefore, any analysis that tries to understand the impact of immigrant workers on the overall system has to take into account the decisions and events these individuals face throughout their lives, as well as the use of the government programs they are entitled to. We propose a life-cycle Overlapping Generations (OLG) model in a general equilibrium framework of legal and undocumented immigrants' decisions regarding consumption, savings, labor supply, and program participation to analyze their role in the financial sustainability of the system. Our analysis of the effects of potential policy changes, such as giving some undocumented immigrants legal status, shows increases in capital stock, output, consumption, labor productivity, and overall welfare. The effects are relatively small in percentage terms but considerable given the size of our economy.

"Trade-Offs in Means Tested Pension Design" 

CHUNG TRAN, Australian National University (ANU) - School of Economics
ALAN D. WOODLAND, University of New South Wales

Inclusion of means testing into age pension programs allows governments to better direct benefits to those most in need and to control funding costs by providing flexibility to control the participation rate (extensive margin) and the benefit level (intensive margin). The former is aimed at mitigating adverse effects on incentives and to strengthen the insurance function of an age pension system. In this paper, we investigate how means tests alter the trade-off between these insurance and incentive effects and the consequent welfare outcomes. Our contribution is twofold. First, we show that the means test effect via the intensive margin potentially improves the insurance aspect but introduces two opposing impacts on incentives, the final welfare outcome depending upon the interaction between the two margins. Second, conditioning on the compulsory existence of pension systems, we find that the introduction of a means test results in nonlinear welfare effects that depend on the level of maximum pension benefits. More specifically, when the maximum pension benefit is relatively low, an increase in the taper rate always leads to a welfare gain, since the insurance and the positive incentive effects are always dominant. However, when maximum pension benefits are relatively more generous the negative incentive effect becomes dominant and welfare declines.

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