Wednesday, February 8, 2012

New papers from the Social Science Research Network

"How Did the Recession of 2007-2009 Affect the Wealth and Retirement of the Near Retirement Age Population in the Health and Retirement Study?" Free Download
Michigan Retirement Research Center Research Paper No. 2011-253

ALAN L. GUSTMAN, Dartmouth College - Department of Economics, National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)
THOMAS STEINMEIER, Texas Tech University - Department of Economics and Geography
NAHID TABATABAI, Dartmouth College - Department of Economics

This paper uses asset and labor market data from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS) to investigate how the recent "Great Recession" has affected the wealth and retirement of those in the population who were just approaching retirement age at the beginning of the recession, a potentially vulnerable segment of the working age population. The retirement wealth held by those ages 53 to 58 before the onset of the recession in 2006 declined by a relatively modest 2.8 percentage points by 2010. In more normal times, their wealth would have increased over these four years. Members of older cohorts accumulated an additional 5 percent of wealth over the same age span. To be sure, a part of that accumulation was the result of the upside of the housing bubble. The wealth holdings of poorer households were least affected by the recession. Relative losses are greatest for those who initially had the highest wealth when the recession began.
The adverse labor market effects of the Great Recession are more modest. Although there is an increase in unemployment, that increase is not mirrored in the rate of flow out of full-time work or partial retirement. All told, the retirement behavior of the Early Boomer cohort looks similar, at least so far, to the behavior observed for members of older cohorts at comparable ages.
Very few in the population nearing retirement age have experienced multiple adverse events. Although most of the loss in wealth is due to a fall in the net value of housing, because very few in this cohort have found their housing wealth under water, and housing is the one asset this cohort is not likely to cash in for another decade or two, there is time for their losses in housing wealth to recover.

"An Analysis of Risk-Taking Behavior for Public Defined Benefit Pension Plans" Free Download
Upjohn Institute Working Paper No. 12-179

NANCY MOHAN, University of Dayton
TING ZHANG, University of Dayton - School of Business Administration

This paper investigates the determinants of public pension plan risk-taking behavior using the percentage of total plan assets invested in the equity markets and the pension asset beta as measures of investment risk. We find that government accounting standards strongly affect public fund investment risk, as higher return assumptions (used to discount pension liabilities) are associated with higher equity allocation and beta. Unlike private pension plans, public funds undertake more risk if they are underfunded and have lower investment returns in the previous years, consistent with the risk transfer hypothesis. Furthermore, pension funds in states facing financial constraints allocate more assets to equity and have higher pension asset betas. There also appears to be a herding effect in that a change in CalPERS portfolio beta or equity allocation is mimicked by other pension funds. Finally, the results offer mild support of a public union effect.

"Why Has the Crisis Been Bad for Private Pensions, But Good for the Flat Tax? The Sustainability of ‘Neoliberal’ Reforms in the New EU Member States" Free Download
Centre for European Policy Working Paper No. 356

MIROSLAV BEBLAVÝ, Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS)

This paper examines two questions related to the sustainability of the major neoliberal, economic and social reforms in the new EU member states, namely the flat income tax and private pension pillars. First, we look at the relationship between the political consensus/controversy at the time major policy reforms were passed and the future sustainability of these reforms after a change of government. Second, we explore what we call a paradox of reverse sustainability, whereby the flat income tax has been more politically resilient during the global financial and economic crisis than private pensions, even though ex ante expectations and the literature would lead us to expect the opposite.
The paper shows that controversy at the time the reforms were passed had no effect on subsequent sustainability, and the levels of partisanship and public support with regard to a specific reform seem less important than the political costs and benefits. We also find that despite their apparent neoliberal bent, the two policies are versatile enough to be shaped towards a variety of policy goals, allowing their introduction and retention in a variety of economic and social circumstances. In other words, even though private pensions and particularly the flat tax have powerful political connotations, they are by no means policy straitjackets.
While both reforms could sustain themselves throughout the ‘good’ times before the global crisis, their fates diverged during the crisis. Neither public support nor the large constituency of savers could fully protect private pensions from a policy reversal during a period of exceptional fiscal pressure. That is because a reversal was associated with significant, short-term fiscal gains and the states where these reversals took place also took a range of other decisions that were politically extraordinarily difficult. On the other hand, we demonstrate that the introduction or potential reversal of the flat tax was not associated with significant, short-term revenue gains. It is the relatively ‘cheap’ nature of the flat tax that distinguishes it from private pensions, because it sends a highly cost-effective signal in terms of revenues lost owing to its existence.

"Racial and Ethnic Differences in the Retirement Prospects of Divorced Women in the Baby Boom and Generation X Cohorts" Free Download
Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 72, No. 1, pp. 23-36, 2012

BARBARA A. BUTRICA, The Urban Institute
KAREN E. SMITH, Urban Institute

Blacks, Hispanics, and divorced women have historically experienced double-digit poverty rates in retirement, and divorce and other demographic trends will increase their representation in future retiree populations. For these reasons, we might expect an increase in the proportion of economically vulnerable divorced women in the future. This article uses the Social Security Administration’s Modeling Income in the Near Term (version 6) to describe the likely characteristics, work experience, Social Security benefit status, and economic well-being of future divorced women at age 70 by race and ethnicity. Factors associated with higher retirement incomes include having a college degree; having a strong history of labor force attachment; receiving Social Security benefits; and having pensions, retirement accounts, or assets, regardless of race and ethnicity. However, because divorced black and Hispanic women are less likely than divorced white women to have these attributes, income sources, or assets, their projected average retirement incomes are lower than those of divorced white women.

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