The Role of Social Security in Overall Retirement Resources: A Distributional Perspective
During recent decades, the US employer-sponsored retirement system has undergone a major shift from primarily defined benefit (DB)-type plans to primarily defined contribution (DC)-type plans. Furthermore, in the past decade, participation in employer retirement plans has fallen, particularly for younger and lower-income families. In light of this, there is growing concern that wealth accumulation through employer-provided pension plans is falling short, especially for the bottom half of the income distribution. However, focusing only on employer-sponsored pensions provides an incomplete picture; it has left the public pension, Social Security, out of the discussion. Social Security provides near universal coverage and calculates benefits progressively, leaving lower-income households with much higher replacement rates relative to their pre-retirement income. Claims to future Social Security benefits are a key component of retirement wealth, and thus failure to include Social Security leads to a biased assessment of the overall distribution of retirement wealth.
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