Monday, October 6, 2014

New papers from the National Bureau of Economic Research

Distributional Effects of Means Testing Social Security: An Exploratory Analysis by Alan Gustman, Thomas Steinmeier, Nahid Tabatabai - #20546 (AG LS PE)

Abstract: This paper examines the distributional implications of introducing additional means testing of Social Security benefits where proceeds are used to help balance Social Security's finances. Benefits of the top quarter of households ranked according to the relevant measure of means are reduced using a modified version of the Social Security Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP). The replacement rate in the first bracket of the benefit formula, determining the Primary Insurance Amount (PIA), would be reduced from 90 percent to 40 percent of Average Indexed Monthly Earnings (AIME). Four measures of means are considered: total wealth; an annualized measure of AIME; the wealth value of pensions; and a measure of average indexed lifetime W2 earnings. The empirical analysis is based on data from the Health and Retirement Study. These means tests would reduce total lifetime household benefits by 7 to 9 percentage points. We find that the basis for means testing Social Security makes a substantial difference as to which households have their benefits reduced, and that different means tests may have different effects on the benefits of families in similar circumstance. We also find that the measure of means used to evaluate the effects of a means test makes a considerable difference as to how one would view the effects of the means test on the distribution of benefits.

Annuitized Wealth and Post-Retirement Saving by John Laitner, Daniel Silverman, Dmitriy Stolyarov - #20547 (AG EFG PE)

Abstract: We introduce a tractable model of post-retirement saving behavior in which households have a precautionary motive arising from uninsured health status risks. The model distinguishes between annuitized and non-annuitized wealth, emphasizes the importance of asset composition in determining optimal household behavior, and includes an extension allowing late-in-life exchange transactions among relatives. We consider three puzzles in micro data - rising cohort average wealth of retirees, lack of demand for market annuities, and the relative scarcity of bequests - and show that our model can provide intuitive explanations for each.

The Perception Of Social Security Incentives For Labor Supply And Retirement: The Median Voter Knows More Than You'd Think by Jeffrey B. Liebman, Erzo F.P. Luttmer - #20562 (PE)

Abstract: The degree to which the Social Security tax distorts labor supply depends on the extent to which individuals perceive the link between current earnings and future Social Security benefits. Some Social Security reform plans have been motivated by an assumption that workers fail to perceive this link and that increasing the salience of the link could result in significant efficiency gains. To measure the perceived linkage between labor supply and Social Security benefits, we administered a survey to a representative sample of Americans aged 50-70. We find that the majority of respondents believe that their Social Security benefits increase with labor supply. Indeed, respondents generally report a link between labor supply and future benefits that is somewhat greater than the actual incentive. We also surveyed people about their understanding of various other provisions in the Social Security benefit rules. We find that some of these provisions (e.g., effects of delayed benefit claiming and rules on widow benefits) are relatively well understood while others (e.g., rules on spousal benefits, provisions on which years of earnings are taken into account) are less well understood.

In addition, our survey incorporated a framing experiment, which shows that how the incentives for delayed claiming are presented has an impact on hypothetical claiming decisions. In particular, the traditional "break-even" framing used by the Social Security Administration leads to earlier claiming than other presentations do.

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