Category Archives: Benefits

Divergent Trends in US Maternity and Paternity Leave, 1994–2015

Source: Jay L. Zagorsky, American Journal of Public Health, Vol. 107, No. 3, March 2017
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
Objectives. To determine the number and type of US workers taking maternity or paternity leave.

Methods. We created a publicly available ecological long-term series for measuring parental leave from 1994 to 2015 by using the Current Population Survey, which interviews about 60 000 randomly selected households monthly.

Results. The average month from 1994 to 2015 saw 273 000 women and 13 000 men on maternity or paternity leave. Maternity leave rates per 10 000 births showed no trend over 22 years (mean = 677.6). Paternity figures increased by a factor of 3, but started from a small base (14.7–54.6). We observed no national impact on maternity or paternity leave after implementation of state laws that provided paid leave. About half (51.1%) of employees on maternity or paternity leave during 2015 received paid time off. The typical woman on maternity leave was older, more likely married, more likely non-Hispanic White, and more educated than the typical woman who gave birth.

Conclusions. Although the US economy has expanded dramatically since 1994, this improvement does not appear to have translated into more women taking maternity leave.

Comparing the Compensation of Federal and Private-Sector Employees, 2011 to 2015

Source: Congressional Budget Office, Report no. 52637, April 25, 2017

From the summary:
During the 2011-2015 period, the difference between the wages, benefits, and total compensation of federal civilian employees and those of similar private-sector employees varied widely depending on the employees’ educational attainment.

Who Contributes to Individual Retirement Accounts?

Source: Anqi Chenand, Alicia H. Munnell, Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, IB#17-8 April 2017

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.

Target Date Funds: What’s Under the Hood?

Source: Edwin J. Elton, Martin J. Gruber, Andre de Souza and Christopher R. Blake, Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, IB#17-2, January 2017

The brief’s key findings are:
• While nearly 60 percent of new 401(k) participants have savings in target date funds (TDFs), little research has looked under the hood of this investment vehicle.
• This analysis uses a unique dataset with extensive information on the underlying mutual funds that TDFs hold.
• The results show that TDFs:
• often invest in specialized assets (e.g., emerging markets and real estate);
• charge fees that are only modestly higher than if an individual investor assembled a similar portfolio on his own; and
• earn returns that are broadly in line with other mutual funds.
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State and Local Government Spending on Public Employee Retirement Systems

Source: National Association of State Retirement Administrators, NASRA Issue Brief, Updated April 2017

State and local government pension benefits are paid not from general operating revenues, but from trust funds to which public retirees and their employers contributed while they were working. On a nationwide basis, pension contributions made by state and local governments account for roughly 4.5 percent of direct general spending. Current pension spending levels, however, vary widely and are sufficient for some entities and insufficient for others.

In the wake of the 2008-09 market decline, nearly every state and many cities have taken steps to improve the financial condition of their retirement plans and to reduce costs. States and cities changed their pension plans by adjusting employee and employer contribution levels, restructuring benefits, or both. Generally, adjustments to pension plans have been found to be proportionate to the plan’s funding condition and the degree of change needed.

The Drivers of Public Sector Pension Reform Across the U.S. States

Source: Michael Thom, The American Review of Public Administration, Volume 47, Issue 4, May 2017
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
This study analyzes the diffusion of public sector pension reforms across the American states between 1999 and 2012, a policy area notable for its fiscal implications as much as its recent political polarization. Previous enactment in other, non-contiguous states was the largest and most consistent driver of reform. Otherwise, empirical findings suggest that reform antecedents varied by reform type. Existing funding levels reduced the likelihood that states would cut benefits, change pension governance, or reduce cost of living allowances, but had no effect otherwise. Evidence for partisan legislative influence is weak, although Republican control had partial, positive effects on the enactment of pension governance reforms and increases to the retirement age. Across the board, other relevant factors such as constitutional pension protections, collective bargaining rights, and union membership density had no effect. That external contagion pressures have a more robust influence than endogenous conditions raises questions about the future efficacy of pension reform.

Do Americans Really Save Too Little and Should We Nudge Them to Save More? The Ethics of Nudging Retirement Savings

Source: Todd J. Zywicki, George Mason Law & Economics Research Paper No. 17-03, January 17, 2017

From the abstract:
The contention that consumers systematically “undersave” for retirement is a frequent example provided by adherents to behavioral economics and behavioral law and economics to purportedly illustrate their theories. Although frequently asserted, the claim that people systematically undersave is rarely assessed empirically.

This article, written for the Georgetown Institute for the Study of Markets and Ethics Symposium on “The Ethics of Nudging,” examines available data on how many people fail to save and the reasons why they do not. According to available evidence, the overwhelming number of households saves enough or more than they need for retirement; only a small minority does not seem to save enough. Those who do not save for retirement lack the money to do so or allocate available resources to paying down consumer and student loan debt. Behavioral economics theories explain little of the observed patterns of saving or non-saving behavior. Moreover, behavioral economics itself suggests that many people probably oversave for retirement and makes no effort to reconcile these offsetting biases.

More fundamental, once it is recognized that there is an opportunity cost to saving more — one must consume less today, borrow more, or work more — the theoretical validity of the claim that people undersave because of behavioral biases is suspect. Given the inherently subjective nature of opportunity cost, a central planner cannot be confident that he can make people better off by influencing their consumption expenditures across time than he could by shifting consumption expenditures across different goods and services today. It is concluded that there is little reason to believe that people would be made better off by nudging them to save more for retirement.

2017 National Study of Employers

Source:Kenneth Matos, Ellen Galinsky and James T. Bond, Families and Work Institute (FWI) and the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), 2017

The National Study of Employers is a comprehensive look at employer practices, policies, programs and benefits that address personal and family needs of employees. The survey of more than 900 U.S. employers with 50 or more employees was conducted by the Families and Work Institute and is released by SHRM as part of the When Work Works initiative.

The study provides insight into how employers are responding to the changing demographics of the workforce over time and examines flexible work arrangements, paid and unpaid parental and other caregiver leave, and elder care assistance, among other practices. This is the sixth published study since the project was launched in 1998.

Key findings include:
• Small employers (50-99 employees) were more likely than large employers (1,000 or more employees) to offer all or most employees 1) traditional flextime, the ability to periodically change start and stop times (36% vs. 17%), 2) control over when to take breaks (63% vs. 47%) and time off during the work day to attend to important family or personal needs without loss of pay (51% vs. 33%).
• Growth of workplace flexibility has been stable over the past four years. Out of 18 forms of flexibility studied, there were only four changes:
• An increase in employers that offer telework, allowing employees to work at least some of their paid hours at home on a regular basis (40% in 2016 vs. 33% in 2012).
• An increase in employers that allow employees to return to work gradually after childbirth or adoption (81% in 2016 vs. 73% in 2012).
• An increase in organizations that allow employees to receive special consideration after a career break for personal/family responsibilities (28% in 2016 vs. 21% in 2012).
• A decrease in organizations that allow employees to take time off during the workday to attend to important family or personal needs without loss of pay (81% in 2016 vs. 87% in 2012).

Effects of an employee exercise programme on mental health

Source: N. D. Emerson, D. A. Merrill, K. Shedd, R. M. Bilder, P. Siddarth, Occupation Medicine, Volume 67 Issue 2, March 2017
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
Prior research indicates that workplace wellness programmes (WWPs) are generally associated with lowered healthcare costs and improved employee health. Despite the importance of mental well-being in workplace productivity and attendance, few WWP studies have focused on improvements in psychological well-being.

To examine the effects of the Bruin Health Improvement Program (BHIP), a 3-month exercise and nutrition WWP, on seven domains of health: physical and mental health, stress, energy level, social satisfaction, self-efficacy and quality of life.

Using data from BHIP completers, we conducted multiple one-way multivariate analyses of variance and follow-up univariate t-tests to examine changes in physical and mental health, stress, energy level, social satisfaction, self-efficacy and quality of life. Effect sizes were also calculated post hoc to determine the magnitude of each effect.

Results for the 281 participants reveal significant improvements across all seven domains (P < 0.001). Effect sizes ranged from 0.19 to 0.67. Conclusions: This study is unique in revealing the effects of a WWP on multiple domains of psychological well-being. Given rising healthcare costs associated with mental health, targeting mental health through WWP may be an effective strategy for reducing indirect healthcare costs associated with absenteeism and presenteeism.