Monday, July 24, 2017

New working paper: “The Relative Effects of Economic and Non-Economic Factors on Taxpayers’ Preferences Between Front-Loaded and Back-Loaded Retirement Savings Plans”

The Center for Retirement Research at Boston College has published a new working paper, “The Relative Effects of Economic and Non-Economic Factors on Taxpayers’ Preferences Between Front-Loaded and Back-Loaded Retirement Savings Plans,” by Andrew D. Cuccia, Marcus M. Doxey and Shane R. Stinson


To understand the potential impact of tax incentives on individual retirement saving, we must understand how individuals make decisions about saving. We examine individual taxpayers’ choices between front-loaded (e.g., traditional) and back-loaded (e.g., Roth) defined contribution retirement savings plans, as well as their saving levels and investment style choices within a plan. To do so, we conduct a series of experiments that allow us to consider individual-specific expectations regarding the economic factors that normatively drive retirement saving decisions, as well as non-economic attitudes and preferences that may also impact these decisions. Overall, we find that participants generally prefer back-loaded retirement plans to front-loaded plans. We find mixed evidence regarding whether individuals appropriately weight expected tax rate changes in their plan choices, despite the fact that these tax rate changes are the primary factor driving the relative after-tax returns of front- and back-loaded plans. Conversely, we find evidence that plan attributes related to individuals’ non-economic attitudes and preferences consistently influence plan choice. Saving levels, while idiosyncratic and difficult to predict, are negatively associated with preference for back-loaded plans and may be influenced by tax-related contextual variables as well. Investment risk is also negatively associated with preferences for back-loaded plans.

The paper found that:

  • Taxpayers prefer back-loaded plans over front-loaded plans.
  • Individuals may not systematically rely on their beliefs regarding their relative tax rates when making plan choices. At least part of that failure is due to a lack of awareness and/or understanding.
  • Individual saving levels and investment selections, while largely idiosyncratic and difficult to predict, are negatively associated with a preference for back-loaded plans and may be influenced by tax-related contextual variables as well.
Read more!

Social Security’s Financial Outlook: The 2017 Update in Perspective

The Center for Retirement Research at Boston College has published a new issue brief, “Social Security’s Financial Outlook: The 2017 Update in Perspective,” by Alicia H. Munnell

The brief’s key findings are:
  • The 2017 Trustees Report shows very little change:
    • Social Security’s 75-year deficit rose slightly from 2.66 percent to 2.83 percent of payroll.
    • The deficit as a percentage of GDP remains at 0.9 percent.
    • Trust fund exhaustion is still 2034, after which payroll taxes still cover about three quarters of promised benefits.
  • The shortfall is manageable, but action should be taken soon to equitably share the burden among cohorts, restore public confidence, and give people time to adjust.
  • Proposed solutions range from “all benefit cuts” to “all tax increases.” For action to occur, policymakers need guidance from the public on the desired mix.
Read more!

Smith: “Social Security Needs More Independent Oversight”

Writing at, Brenton Smith argues that the vacant positions for Social Security’s two public trustees undermines confidence in the program.

The Public Trustee is supposed to be independent of the forces of politics. Each of these trustees enjoys a term that is defined by law rather than by job title. Thus, these individuals cannot be dismissed by the President, nor terminated by the politics of Congress.

As such, these individuals insert visible independent oversight of the numbers which govern the discussion of this critical program. If we have any hope of finding a middle ground in developing reforms, it will come from data on which all sides can agree on the size and scope of any financial challenges.

Click here to read the whole article.

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Event video: “What’s in store for Social Security? Experts discuss the 2017 Social Security Trustees Report”

Over at AEI’s website you can watch video from the July 19 event, “What’s in store for Social Security? Experts discuss the 2017 Social Security Trustees Report,” which featured Stephen C. Goss, Chief Actuary of the Social Security program; Paul Van de Water, a former Social Security Administration official now at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities; and Andrew G. Biggs, also formerly of Social Security and now a Resident Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

You can watch the full event here.

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Another Year, Another Decline in Social Security's Financial Health

Over at Forbes, I look at the results of the 2017 Social Security Trustees Report:

Yesterday, Social Security’s Trustees released their annual report on the program’s finances. There were no breathtaking changes, just a continuation of the slow and steady decline in the financial health of the federal government's largest spending program and the largest source of income for most retirees. With Social Security, no news usually equals bad news. The response from progressives is mostly to downplay the need for reform, stressing that there are another 17 years until Social Security’s trust funds become insolvent. The response from conservatives is mostly silence, since – after the failure of President George W. Bush’s reform efforts in 2005 – the right doesn’t have a clear idea of what they want to do about Social Security. Neither response should be encouraging for the public.

Check out the whole article here.

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Monday, July 10, 2017

Upcoming event: “Hearing on Social Security’s Solvency Challenge: Status of the Social Security Trust Funds”

Chairman Johnson Announces Hearing on Social Security’s Solvency
Challenge: Status of the Social Security Trust Funds House Ways and Means

Social Security Subcommittee Chairman Sam Johnson (R-TX) announced today that the Subcommittee will hold a hearing entitled “Social Security’s Solvency Challenge: Status of the Social Security Trust Funds.” The hearing will focus on the status of the Federal Old-Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI) and Federal Disability Insurance (DI) Trust Funds and the effects of delaying action to address Social Security’s future insolvency.

The hearing will take place on Friday, July 14, 2017 in 2020 Rayburn House Office Building, beginning at 9:00 AM.

Click here for more details.

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Friday, June 23, 2017

Savings and Retirement Forum with Mark Warshawsky

Join us June 28 For a Lunch Meeting with Guest Speaker:

Mark Warshawsky

Senior Fellow, Mercatus Center

Who will discuss his new paper:
Retire on the House
The Possible Use of Reverse Mortgages to Enhance Retirement Security
June 28, 2017
Noon-1:00 p.m.
The Tax Foundation
9th Floor
1325 G St. NW
Washington, DC
(Lunch will be provided)

Mark Warshawsky is a Senior Research Fellow at the Mercatus Center of George Mason University.  He is a co-author of the Fundamentals of Private Pensions, Ninth Edition (Oxford University Press, 2010) and author of Retirement Income: Risks and Strategies (MIT Press, 2012).  From 2006 to 2013 he was director of retirement research at Towers Watson, a global human capital consulting firm.   He was a member of the Social Security Advisory Board from 2006 through 2012 and was vice chairman of the federal Commission on Long-Term Care in 2013.  Warshawsky received a PhD in economics from Harvard University and a BA with highest distinction from Northwestern University.

RSVP to:

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Thursday, June 22, 2017

CRFB: Trump Budget Includes Meaningful SSDI Reforms

The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget gives a run-down of the Social Security disability reforms included as part of the Trump administration's budget proposal. While the CRFB isn’t positive on Trump’s overall budget or even the parts limited to disability, they argue that policymakers shouldn’t dismiss the disability proposals out of hand.

The budget includes a number of proposals for changing SSDI's benefits and eligibility process aimed at reducing inequities and possible overlapping payments. The budget also calls for testing several new strategies aimed at improving the labor force participation of SSDI beneficiaries. Altogether, these reforms would likely close one-quarter to one-half of SSDI's long-term funding gap.

Check out the whole article here.

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New paper: “The Upcoming Social Security and Medicare Trustees’ Reports: A Preview

Writing for the Bipartisan Policy Center, Charles Blahous and Robert Reischauer – who were until last year the two public trustees of the Social Security and Medicare programs – discuss the upcoming Trustees Reports for Social Security and Medicare:

The Social Security Act requires that the boards of trustees of the several Social Security and Medicare trust funds report annually to the Congress on the recent and future operations of the trust funds. More specifically, the act requires that the trustees report on the “operation and status” of the trust funds during the preceding fiscal year as well as the next few years. The act also requires that the reports contain statements of the actuarial status of the trust funds, which the trustees have traditionally measured over a seventy-five year projection period. With respect to Social Security, the trustees are also required to issue a finding as to whether its trust funds are in “close actuarial balance.” The 2016 reports found that both the Social Security Federal Disability Insurance (DI) trust fund and the Medicare Federal Hospital Insurance (HI) trust fund failed the trustees’ test of short-range financial adequacy while Social Security’s Federal Old-Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI) trust fund failed their test of long-term adequacy. In short, the trust funds will eventually be depleted if lawmakers do not take corrective action.

Check out the whole article here.

Read more!

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

New papers from the NBER

Social Security and Saving: An Update by Sita Slavov, Devon Gorry, Aspen Gorry, Frank N. Caliendo - #23506 (AG PE)


Typical neoclassical life-cycle models predict that Social Security has a large and negative effect on private savings. We review this theoretical literature by constructing a model where individuals face uninsurable longevity risk and differ by wage earnings, while Social Security provides benefits as a life annuity with higher replacement rates for the poor. We use the model to generate numerical examples that confirm the standard result. Using several benefit and tax changes from the 1970s and 1980s as natural experiments, we investigate the empirical relationship between Social Security and private savings and find little to support the strong predictions from the theoretical model. We explore possible reasons for the divergence between theoretical predictions and empirical findings.

Planning for Retirement? The Importance of Time Preferences

by Robert L. Clark, Robert G. Hammond, Christelle Khalaf, Melinda Sandler Morrill - #23501 (AG)


Ensuring retirement income security is a priority for individuals, employers, and policymakers. Using merged administrative and survey data for public sector workers in North Carolina, we explore how workers' characteristics and preferences are associated with planning and saving for retirement. We then assess the "quality" of a retirement plan and whether retirement behavior is consistent with

these plans. The findings indicate that the way that individuals

discount future consumption is associated with the extent of their retirement planning and preparedness. We find that individuals who engage in retirement planning are better prepared to meet their retirement goals upon leaving their career jobs.

Read more!

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Upcoming event: “Using Tontines for Retirement Income”

Jonathan Forman
Alfred P. Murrah Professor of Law
University of Oklahoma

Who will discuss his paper:
“Using Tontines for Retirement Income”
Wednesday June 21, 2017
Noon-1:00 p.m.
Location: Cato Institute
1000 Massachusetts Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20001-5403
(Lunch will be provided)

Forman (“Jon”) is the Alfred P. Murrah Professor of Law at the University of Oklahoma, where he teaches courses on tax and pension law and writes about retirement policy. 

Background on Tontines

In a simple tontine, a group of investors pool their money together to buy a portfolio of investments, and, as investors die, their shares are forfeited, often with the entire fund going to the last surviving member.  For example, in an episode of the TV show M*A*S*H, Colonel Sherman T. Potter, as the last survivor of his World War I unit, got to open the bottle of cognac that he and his buddies brought home from France (and share it with his Korean War compatriots).
The ttontine principle—“that the share of each, at her death, is enjoyed by the survivors” —can be used to design financial products that would benefit multiple survivors, not just the last survivor. Unlike traditional defined benefit plans, these tontines would always be fully funded; and, unlike annuities, these tontines could be run by low-cost mutual funds rather than high-cost insurance companies.

Click here to RVSP.

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Thursday, June 1, 2017

Upcoming Event: “Small Businesses & Retirement Readiness: Vermont Embraces a Multiple Employer Plan Approach”

View this email in your browser

Join us for a free webinar:

Small Businesses & Retirement Readiness:
Vermont Embraces a Multiple Employer Plan Approach

DATE: Wednesday, June 7, 2017
TIME: 1:00 PM – 2:00 PM ET

States are leading the way by developing innovative new approaches to helping more small businesses and private sector workers save for retirement. One of these approaches is through the establishment of a multiple employer plan (MEP). Vermont will be the first state to offer a MEP to small businesses and workers as an option to help increase retirement savings.
But what is a MEP? What are the advantages of a MEP?
During this one hour webinar, panelists will provide an overview of the challenges facing small businesses today, why Vermont has chosen to establish a MEP, and some of the considerations for the design and operation of a state-facilitated MEP.

Our Panel:

  • The Honorable Beth Pearce, Treasurer, State of Vermont
  • Matt Birong, Owner, 3 Squares CafĂ©, Vergennes, Vermont
  • David Morse, Partner, K&L Gates LLP
  • Wendy Young Carter, Vice-President, Public Sector, Segal
  • Barb Van Zomeren, Senior-Vice President, Ascensus


  • Angela M. Antonelli, Executive Director, Georgetown Center for Retirement Initiatives

Read more!

Upcoming Event: “Reviewing the Evidence: What Works in Disability Employment Services”

Reviewing the Evidence: What Works in Disability Employment Services

Jun 22, 2017 12:00 p.m. - 1:30 p.m.

The growing evidence base on disability employment services has given policymakers and administrators an opportunity to either scale up and replicate services that work or to stop supporting those that do not. On June 22, from 12:00 p.m. to 1:30 p.m., Eastern Daylight Time,Mathematica’s Center for Studying Disability Policy (CSDP) will host a live webinar featuring a panel of experts from Mathematica who will discuss the emerging evidence on promising employment interventions. Our speakers will present findings from recent studies of the following:

  • Support from state vocational rehabilitation agencies for the postsecondary education of transition-age youth with mental health conditions
  • The Job Corps program’s potential to (1) improve employment outcomes for adults with disabilities who participated in the program when they were young and (2) reduce their reliance on disability benefits
  • Early impacts of a state vocational agency intervention on Social Security Disability Insurance beneficiaries


  • Craig Thornton, Moderator
  • Priyanka Anand
  • Heinrich Hock
  • Gina Livermore
  • David Stapleton, Discussant

Click here to register.

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Friday, May 26, 2017

New papers from the Social Science Research Network

"Contributory Retirement Saving Plans: Differences across Earnings Groups and Implications for Retirement Security"
Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 77(2), p. 13-24, 2017

IRENA DUSHI, U.S. Social Security Administration
HOWARD IAMS, U.S. Social Security Administration
CHRISTOPHER R. TAMBORINI, U.S. Social Security Administration

This article examines how savings in defined contribution (DC) retirement plans vary across the earnings distribution. Specifically, the authors investigate the extent of an earnings gradient in access to, participation in, and levels of contribution to DC plans. Using a nationally representative sample of Survey of Income and Program Participation respondents to data from their W-2 tax records, the authors find that DC plan access, participation, and contributions increase as earnings increase, even after controlling for key socioeconomic and labor-market covariates. They also find that, despite changing economic conditions, the earnings gradient changed little between 2006 and 2012.

"An Experimental Analysis of Modifications to the Survivor Benefit Information within the Social Security Statement"
CRR WP 2017-5, May 2017

JEFFREY DIEBOLD, North Carolina State University - School of Public and International Affairs
SUSAN E. CAMILLERI, North Carolina State University

This paper examines the effect of modifications to the survivor benefit information in the Social Security Statement on the benefit knowledge and the expected claiming behavior of married men using an experimental survey of workers from the RAND American Life Panel (ALP). Critical components of this analysis include modifications to the survivor benefit information in the Statement’s benefit table and a “special insert” that explains the survivor benefit provisions. The key limitations of this study include the limited generalizability of the results due to the sampling frame (i.e., men) and the self-selection of ALP panel members into the study. Second, a worker’s claiming decision is likely the result of a more complicated decision-making process than was allowed for in this experiment. Our study assumes, for example, that married workers evaluate their benefit information and make a decision about when to claim independent of input from their spouse. While the occurrence and scope of such deliberations will vary by household, given the financial implications of this decision for each spouse, the assumption that married workers make this decision unilaterally is somewhat tenuous.
The paper found that:
• Providing individuals with comprehensive and complex survivor benefit information improved their awareness and understanding of these provisions.
• When workers are compelled to consider the effect that their claim age has on their survivor benefit, they appear to incorporate this into deciding when to claim. Each modification increased the expected claim ages of respondents by roughly one year relative to the control.
• While it is possible to foster a deeper understanding of the complex interaction among survivor benefit provisions through an informational insert, this level of comprehension does not appear necessary to induce prosocial claiming behavior. Instead, it was sufficient for respondents to merely see that their spouse would receive a lower survivor benefit at lower claim ages.
• The fade-out of the effects of the modifications considered in this analysis was rapid.
The policy implications of the findings are:
• Respondents in this study were not well informed about the survivor benefit, suggesting that more detailed information may help married workers prepare financially for retirement and the transition into widowhood.
• The finding that workers exposed to survivor benefit information were more likely to adjust their expected claim age suggests that they may not have already factored this information into their expectations and that it has value.
• The rapid fade-out of the improvements in benefit knowledge and expected claiming behavior evident in this study has important practical implications and suggests that workers may benefit most if online information and mailed paper statements were treated as complements as opposed to substitutes.

"Actuarial Inputs and the Valuation of Public Pension Liabilities and Contribution Requirements: A Simulation Approach"
CRR WP 2017-4 May 2017

GANG CHEN, State University of New York (SUNY) - Rockefeller College of Public Affairs & Policy
DAVID S. T. MATKIN, SUNY University at Albany, SUNY University at Albany

This paper uses a simulated public pension system to examine the sensitivity of actuarial input changes on funding ratios and contribution requirements. We examine instantaneous and lagged effects, marginal and interactive effects, and effects under different funding conditions and demographic profiles. The findings emphasize the difficulty of conducting cross-sectional analyses of public pension systems and point to several important considerations for future research.
The paper found that:
• Discount rates, salary growth rates, cost methods, and mortality tables all influence funding ratios and contribution requirements. Without considering these effects, comparisons of funding ratios across pension systems will produce biased results.
• The discount rate assumption is the most influential actuarial input on funding ratios and contribution requirements. We show that a plan can postpone required contributions by raising its discount rate assumption, but its funding condition deteriorates in the long run. In contrast, if a plan reduces its discount rate by one percentage point, and its investment returns continue at the level that was previously assumed, it will take approximately seven years for the funding ratio to return to its original level and an even longer time period for the ARC to return to its original level (though the exact length of time depends on investment returns and the baseline discount rate assumption).
• The effects of actuarial inputs greatly depend on plan characteristics such as demographic profiles and asset levels, and also interactions with other actuarial inputs. Because of the interactive effects, it is difficult to standardize funding ratios or pension obligations by only controlling for a single actuarial input. With better data on plan characteristics (such as information on mortality tables and age distributions), simulations could be used to standardize pension liabilities. In the absence of that information, improved consistency in financial reporting (such as requiring a single cost method) is an effective way to facilitate better comparisons of financial conditions across pension plans.
The policy implications of the findings are:
• The valuation (or measurement) of public pension liabilities and contribution requirements is highly sensitive to the choice of several actuarial assumptions, which should be considered when assessing the financial condition of public pension systems.
• The sensitivity of liability and contribution requirement valuations to actuarial assumptions and methods depends on the demographic profile of pension participants.
• Making more optimistic assumptions reduces the liability and contribution valuations in the short term, but, over time, more optimistic assumptions can have substantive and harmful effects on pension liabilities and contribution requirements.

"Interactions between Financial Incentives and Health in the Early Retirement Decision"

PILAR GARCIA-GOMEZ, Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR) - Erasmus School of Economics (ESE)
TITUS J. GALAMA, USC Center for Economic and Social Research, The RAND Corporation
EDDY VAN DOORSLAER, Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR) - Institute of Health Policy and Management
ANGEL LOPEZ NICOLAS, Technical University of Cartagena (UPCT)

We present a theory of the relation between health and retirement that generates testable predictions regarding the interaction of health, wealth and financial incentives in retirement decisions. The theory predicts (i) that wealthier individuals (compared to poorer individuals) are more likely to retire for health reasons (affordability proposition), and (ii) that health problems make older workers more responsive to financial incentives encouraging retirement (reinforcement proposition). We test these predictions using administrative data on older employees in the Dutch healthcare sector for whom we link adverse health events, proxied by unanticipated hospitalizations, to information on retirement decisions and actual incentives from administrative records of the pension funds. Exploiting unexpected health shocks and quasi-exogenous variation in financial incentives for retirement due to reforms, we account for the endogeneity of health and financial incentives. Making use of the actual individual pension rights diminishes downward bias in estimates of the effect of pension incentives. We find support for our affordability and reinforcement propositions. Both propositions require the benefits function to be convex, as in our data. Our theory and empirical findings highlight the importance of assessing financial incentives for their potential reinforcement of health shocks and point to the possibility that differences in responses to financial incentives and health shocks across countries may relate to whether the benefit function is concave or convex.

Read more!

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Retirement Research Consortium Annual Meeting: August 3-4, 2017

Retirement Research Consortium Annual Meeting: August 3-4, 2017


The 19th annual meeting of the Retirement Research Consortium will take place
at the National Press Club in Washington, DC on August 3-4, 2017. 

The event is open to the public and free of charge, but registration is required.

The agenda and registration form are available here.


The meeting is jointly funded by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College,
the NBER Retirement Research Center, the University of Michigan Retirement Research Center,
and the U.S. Social Security Administration.


Center for Retirement Research at Boston College
258 Hammond Street, Chestnut Hill, MA 02467
(617) 552-1762 | fax: (617) 552-0191 |

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Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Charles Schwab: Cut Payroll, Income Taxes on Retirees

Writing in the Wall Street Journal, investment guru Charles Schwab argues for lowering Social Security payroll taxes on older Americans as a way to encourage them to work more, while also lowering the income taxes that retirees pay on their Social Security benefits:

As deliberations about tax reform begin in earnest, Congress should consider a simple fix to help millions of older Americans: Eliminate Social Security and Medicare payroll taxes after age 65 on the first $50,000 of earned income. These Americans have already contributed to the two programs over a lifetime. Yet even after they hit the retirement age, they continue to pay Social Security and Medicare taxes on income they earn.

This reform could significantly benefit seniors with modest incomes. Nearly 20% of people 65 and over are still working—more than eight million in all—according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Of people 65 and older who reported income in 2014, about 80% took in less than $50,000, according to the Administration on Aging. The median was just over $22,000. This proposal would boost their spending power significantly.

Take a 70-year-old woman who earns $25,000 a year in California. Today the combined Social Security and Medicare tax on that income is approximately $1,900. Federal and state taxes further reduce her take-home pay to roughly $21,000. Exempting her from Social Security and Medicare taxes effectively would increase her spending power by more than 9%. She is likely to put that additional $1,900 toward day-to-day living expenses. It’s enough to have a real positive effect on her quality of life.

I’ve written extensively, including in the Wall Street Journal, about cutting payroll taxes on older workers as a way to encourage delayed retirement. You can check out one of those articles here. Read more!

Friday, May 12, 2017

“The Democrats’ Social Security Plan Means Much Higher Taxes”

I have a new piece in the Wall Street Journal looking at the Social Security 2100 Act, authored by Rep. John Larson (D-MN) but co-sponsored by 83% of House Democrats. That’s much more consensus than any reform plan had during the GOP heyday of personal accounts. But is the plan any good?

The article is still behind the Journal’s paywall, but I believe non-subscribers can access the full article at the Journal’s Twitter account.

Social Security may be the “third rail” of U.S. politics, but congressional Democrats are suddenly eager to risk touching it. Over a remarkably short time they have embraced an ambitious but flawed policy of expanding the program’s benefits via tax increases on all workers, including doubling payroll taxes on high earners.

Since its release on April 5, Rep. John Larson’s Social Security 2100 Act has accrued 160 co-sponsors, more than any other reform proposal in recent history. With support from 80% of House Democrats, Mr. Larson’s legislation can fairly be called the Democrats’ Social Security plan.

Democrats have always been reluctant to cut Social Security benefits, favoring tax increases to fix the troubled program’s long-term deficit of more than $10 trillion. But today’s Democrats have gone further, embracing an expanded Social Security program to address what they claim is inadequate retirement saving outside the government-run system.

For subscribers, the full article is available here.

Read more!

New paper: "The Importance of Social Security Benefits to the Income of the Aged Population"

"The Importance of Social Security Benefits to the Income of the Aged Population"
Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 77(2), p. 1-12, 2017

IRENA DUSHI, U.S. Social Security Administration
HOWARD IAMS, U.S. Social Security Administration
BRAD TRENKAMP, Government of the United States of America - Social Security Administration

Social Security benefits comprise the most important source of income for people aged 65 and over. However, changes in the last decades in employer-provided pensions, Social Security program, and societal changes may have altered the composition of income sources among the elderly. Some researchers have argued that the Current Population Survey (CPS ASEC) doesn’t properly measure income from retirement accounts and thus overestimate importance of Social Security and underestimate reliance on income from pensions. Given changes to the CPS, we focus on reliance on Social Security benefits among the elderly, using data from the 2015 CPS, and validate the CPS estimates with those from the Survey of Income and Program Participation and the Health and Retirement Study. Despite differences across the three surveys, estimates are quite similar regarding the share of income from Social Security. Findings suggest that about half of elderly receive at least 50% of their family income from Social Security benefits, whereas for a quarter of elderly Social Security benefits comprise at least 90% of their family income.

Editorial note: Ideally, a paper like this would rely on IRS data, which better captures retirement account income (e.g., Bee and Mitchell, 2016). Lacking that, as a check, this paper could sum the incomes of retirees in the CPS, SIPP and HRS and check them against publicly-available IRS data. If total incomes fall short – which they will with the IRS and SIPP (less sure about the HRS) then these datasets will overestimate dependency on Social Security benefits.

Read more!

Monday, May 8, 2017

New papers from the SSRN

"Rising Inequality in Life Expectancy by Socioeconomic Status"
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College WP No. 2017-2

GEOFFREY SANZENBACHER, Boston College Economics Department
ANTHONY WEBB, Boston College - Center for Retirement Research
NATALIA ORLOVA, Boston College, Center for Retirement Research

Inequality in life expectancy is growing in the United States, but evidence is mixed regarding how much it has grown. Some studies have found that life expectancies have decreased for those with the lowest socioeconomic status (SES). Other studies have found that while inequality is rising, there have been life expectancy gains across the board. A primary difference in these studies is how SES is measured. Some studies use an absolute measure, such as years of school completed, while others use relative measures, such as a person’s ranking of years of school completed compared to others born at the same time. This study uses regression analysis to assign people a relative education ranking and, in doing so, attempts to isolate the changing relationship between SES and mortality from the fact that certain education-based groups, especially high school dropouts, actually have a lower SES level today than in the past. The study finds that when SES is defined in this way – relatively – inequality in mortality by SES is increasing but life expectancies have also increased across SES groups. The study also finds that white women in the bottom of the education distribution have experienced the least improvement of any group. This research suggests efforts to improve the finances of Social Security through higher retirement ages will have to reckon with the distributional effects of increasing inequality in mortality, but not with increases in mortality for large segments of the population.

"Using Kinked Budget Sets to Estimate Extensive Margin Responses: Method and Evidence from the Social Security Earnings Test"
Kelley School of Business Research Paper No. 17-39

ALEXANDER GELBER, National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), University of California, Berkeley
DAMON JONES, University of Chicago - Irving B. Harris Graduate School of Public Policy Studies
DANIEL W. SACKS, Indiana University - Kelley School of Business - Department of Business Economics & Public Policy
JAE SONG, U.S. Social Security Administration

We develop a method for estimating the effect of a kinked budget set on workers' employment decisions, and we use it to estimate the impact of the Social Security Old-Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI) Annual Earnings Test (AET). The AET reduces OASI claimants' current OASI benefits in proportion to their earnings in excess of an exempt amount. Using a Regression Kink Design and Social Security Administration data, we document that the discontinuous change in the benefit reduction rate at the exempt amount causes a corresponding change in the employment rate. We develop conditions in a general setting under which we can use such patterns to estimate the elasticity of the employment rate with respect to the effective average net-of-tax rate. Our resulting elasticity point estimate for the AET is at least 0.49, suggesting that the AET reduces employment by more than one percentage point in the group we study.

"Disarming Puerto Rico's Pension Time Bomb"
Law360, April 19, 2017

RICHARD J. COOPER, Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP - New York Office
LUKE A. BAREFOOT, Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP - New York Office
DANIEL J. SOLTMAN, Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP
ANTONIO PIETRANTONI, Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP - New York Office

With the long-delayed commencement of negotiations between the new government of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico (the “Commonwealth”) and its financial creditors finally underway, and the expiration of the existing stay on creditor actions looming, much of the financial press’ attention over the next several weeks will undoubtedly be focused on whether the government of Puerto Rico can reach an out of-court settlement with its financial creditors. One issue that has received less attention in the financial press, but which is of paramount importance to a financially secure local economy, is the challenge Puerto Rico confronts in reforming its multiple pension systems. This article identifies the two legal mechanisms available to the Commonwealth government to reform its public pension systems — namely, legislative action or implementation of reforms through one or more Title III proceeding(s) under the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA). Focusing on the central government’s Employee Retirement System, which is the largest of the Commonwealth’s public pension systems, we analyze the key considerations that will undoubtedly influence the decision of how to proceed.

"Social Security is Fair to All Generations: Demystifying the Trust Fund, Solvency, and the Promise to Younger Americans"

NEIL H. BUCHANAN, George Washington University Law School

The Social Security system has come under attack for having illegitimately transferred wealth from younger generations to the Baby Boom generation. This claim is incorrect, because it fails to understand how the system was altered in order to force the Baby Boomers to finance their own benefits in retirement. Any challenges that Social Security now faces are not caused by the pay-as-you-go structure of the system but because of Baby Boomers’ other policy errors, especially the emergence of extreme economic inequality since 1980. Attempting to fix the wrong problem all but guarantees a solution that will make matters worse.

"Extending the 'Social Safety Net': Female Labor Supply and Pension Eligibility"

BENJAMIN THOMPSON, University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, Students , University of Michigan at Ann Arbor - Population Studies Center

A 1991 legal change extended the coverage of pensions in rural Brazil to include large numbers of previously uncovered women, conditional on subjective work requirements. This change was accompanied by an increase in female employment, in particular among newly covered women. This paper analyzes the extent to which a causal relationship existed between these two phenomena; specifically, the extent to which women increased their labor supply in response to future pension eligibility. Using a differences-in-differences approach, I find evidence that pension eligibility increased the labor supply of rural women in two ways. First, I find that rural women made immediately eligible by age temporarily increased labor supply, and second, I find that at least some cohorts of younger rural women eligible in the future also increased labor supply, presumably as an anticipatory response. These results shed light on the capacity of elderly workers to respond to financial incentives for old-age labor supply participation, in addition to the extent to which younger workers might be forward-looking in their responses to retirement incentives.

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Sunday, May 7, 2017

Upcoming event: EBRI Policy Forum, May 11th

EBRI 80th Policy Forum

On Thursday, May 11th, the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) will conduct their 80th Policy Forum, sponsored by the EBRI Education and Research Fund (ERF). Hosted at the 20 F Street, NW Conference Center, the Forum is scheduled from 8:30am to 12:30pm.

Please visit here for the full agenda. To register, please visit here.

The 80th EBRI-ERF Policy Forum’s theme is “Retirement Policy Directions in 2017 and Beyond” and takes on critical retirement policy issues, moderated by an all-star lineup of speakers, including:

    • Retirement Plan Portability & Public Policy (Jack VanDerhei, EBRI Research Director and Spencer Williams, Retirement Clearinghouse President & CEO)
    • The Lillywhite Award (Olivia S. Mitchell, Economist and International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans Professor at The Wharton School)
    • What’s Enough? A Conceptual and Empirical Investigation of Retirement Adequacy (Peter J. Brady, Senior Economist, Retirement and Investor Research Division, Investment Company Institute)
    • Fixing the Saver’s Credit and Other Ways to Help At-Risk Workers (Catherine Collison, President, Transamerica Institute and Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies)
    • EBRI Research – Update (Jack VanDerhei, EBRI Research Director, Craig Copeland, Senior Research Associate and Sudipto Banerjee, Research Associate)

Whether you’re an EBRI sponsor, congressional or executive branch staff, a benefits expert, a representative from academia, or affiliated with an interest group, the Policy Forum is an ideal opportunity to examine public policy issues, supported by the latest in EBRI research.

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Saturday, April 29, 2017

Upcoming event: “The Real Retirement Crisis: Not the One You Think,” featuring Andrew Biggs



Guest Speaker
Andrew Biggs
"The Real Retirement Crisis: Not the One You Think"
Thursday, May 4th, 2017
12:00 p.m. - 1:00 p.m.

The Tax Foundation
1325 G St NW
Suite 950
Washington, DC 2000

Featured Guest:

Andrew G. Biggs is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), where he studies Social Security reform, state and local government pensions, and public sector pay and benefits. Before joining AEI, Biggs was the principal deputy commissioner of the Social Security Administration (SSA), where he oversaw SSA’s policy research efforts. In 2005, as an associate director of the White House National Economic Council, he worked on Social Security reform. In 2001, he joined the staff of the President’s Commission to Strengthen Social Security. In 2013, the Society of Actuaries appointed Biggs co-vice chair of a blue ribbon panel tasked with analyzing the causes of underfunding in public pension plans and how governments can securely fund plans in the future. In 2014, Institutional Investor Magazine named him one of the 40 most influential people in the retirement world. In 2016, he was appointed by President Obama to be a member of the financial control board overseeing reforms to Puerto Rico’s budget and the restructuring of the island’s debts.

Biggs holds a bachelor’s degree from Queen’s University Belfast in Northern Ireland, master’s degrees from Cambridge University and the University of London, and a Ph.D. from the London School of Economics.

Andrew Biggs
Resident Scholar


Savings & Retirement Foundation

2012 Wyoming Avenue, Northwest


Washington, DC 20009

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Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Upcoming event: “The Personal Finance Index (P-Fin Index): A New Measure of Financial Literacy”

Click here for more information.

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New paper: “Who Contributes to Individual Retirement Accounts?”

The Center for Retirement Research at Boston College has released a new Issue in Brief:

“Who Contributes to Individual Retirement Accounts?

by Anqi Chen and Alicia H. Munnell

The brief’s key findings are:

  • IRAs were intended to give those without an employer plan access to a tax-deferred savings vehicle.
  • Today, IRAs hold nearly half of all private retirement assets, but most of these funds are rollovers from 401(k)s, rather than contributions.
  • The 14 percent of households who do contribute to IRAs include:
    • higher-income dual-earners who also save in a 401(k);
    • moderate-income singles or one-earner couples, often with a 401(k); and
    • higher-income entrepreneurs with no current 401(k).
  • One way to turn IRAs back into an active savings vehicle – one used more for contributions – is to auto-enroll all workers without an employer plan in an IRA.

This brief is available here. Read more!