Category Archives: Social Security

Examining the Nest Egg: The Sources of Retirement Income for Older Americans

Source: Frank Porell, Tyler Bond, National Institute on Retirement Security (NRIS), January 2020

From the summary:
A new report finds that a large portion (40 percent) of older Americans rely only on Social Security income in retirement while only a small percentage of older Americans (seven percent) receive income from Social Security, a defined benefit pension, and a defined contribution account. Retirement income from these three sources is widely considered to be the ideal situation to ensure retirement security, particularly for the middle class. Retirees with these three sources of income are far less likely to face poverty and economic hardship.

These findings are contained in a new report from the National Institute on Retirement Security (NIRS), Examining the Nest Egg: The Sources of Retirement Income for Older Americans. The report is co-authored by Tyler Bond, NIRS manager of research, and Dr. Frank Porell, University of Massachusetts Boston professor emeritus.

The analysis also finds that without income from Social Security in 2013, the number of poor older U.S. households would have increased by more than 200 percent to 11 million households. Absent income from defined benefit pensions, the number of poor older households would have increased by 19 percent to more than four million households in 2013. Defined contribution plans, however, are less powerful at keeping older households out of poverty than pensions and Social Security because fewer near-poor households have assets in 401(k)-style defined contribution accounts and income from those accounts provided a smaller portion of total income. Without income from defined contribution accounts, the estimated number of poor older households would have increased by five percent.

Social Security Is a Great Equalizer

Source: Wenliang Hou and Geoffrey T. Sanzenbacher, Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, IB#20-2, January 2020

The brief’s key findings are:

  • As the U.S. grows more diverse, it is important to understand how much Social Security affects the relative economic status of retirees by race/ethnicity.
  • This analysis uses the Health and Retirement Study to examine Social Security as a share of retirement wealth for whites, blacks, and Hispanics during 1992-2016.
  • Without Social Security, a typical white household has 5 to 7 times the wealth of a minority household, but adding in Social Security reduces the gap to 2 to 3.
  • Social Security has a similar leveling effect across the wealth distribution, but is particularly important for lower- and middle-income households.
  • Social Security reduces inequality because it covers nearly all workers and has a progressive benefit design, making it the most equal form of retirement wealth.

Measuring Racial/Ethnic Retirement Wealth Inequality

Source: Wenliang Hou and Geoffrey T. Sanzenbacher, Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, WP#2020-2, January 2020

From the abstract:
As the U.S. population becomes more diverse, it will be increasingly important for policymakers addressing Social Security’s solvency to understand how reliant various racial and ethnic groups will be on the program versus other sources of retirement wealth. Yet, to date, studies on retirement wealth have tended not to focus on race and ethnicity, have largely ignored the role of Social Security, or have excluded the most recent cohort approaching retirement – the Late Boomers. This project uses data from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS) to document the retirement resources of white, black, and Hispanic households at various points in the wealth distribution for five HRS cohorts of 51-56 year olds between 1992 and 2016.

The paper found that:

  • In 2016, the typical black household had 46 percent of the retirement wealth of the typical white household, while the typical Hispanic household had 49 percent.
  • This inequality would be much higher but for the presence of Social Security – black households had just 14 percent of the non-Social Security retirement wealth when compared to white households, and Hispanic households had just 20 percent.
  • The 1992 to 2010 HRS cohorts showed little change in retirement wealth inequality, although a decline in 51-56 year old white households’ retirement wealth between 2010 and 2016 narrowed the racial and ethnic gaps in retirement wealth slightly.
  • The progressivity of Social Security combined with lower average incomes for minority households means that replacement rates are more equal than wealth – in 2016, the replacement rate of black households was 82 percent of white households and Hispanic households was 95 percent.

The policy implications of the findings are:

  • Across-the-board benefit cuts, such as increases in the Full Retirement Age, will have an outsize impact on black and Hispanic households’ retirement wealth.
  • As policymakers consider changes to the Social Security program to shore up its finances, considering ways to mitigate any impact on these groups may be important.

2019 Annual Report Of The Boards Of Trustees Of The Federal Hospital Insurance And Federal Supplementary Medical Insurance Trust Funds

Source: Boards Of Trustees Of The Federal Hospital Insurance And Federal Supplementary Medical Insurance Trust Funds, April 22, 2019

From the press release:
Today, the Medicare Board of Trustees released their annual report for Medicare’s two separate trust funds — the Hospital Insurance (HI) Trust Fund, which funds Medicare Part A, and the Supplementary Medical Insurance (SMI) Trust Fund, which funds Medicare Part B and D. The report found that the HI Trust Fund will be able to pay full benefits until 2026, the same as last year’s report.  For the 75-year projection period, the HI actuarial deficit has increased to 0.91 percent of taxable payroll from 0.82 percent in last year’s report. The change in the actuarial deficit is due to several factors, most notably lower assumed productivity growth, as well as effects from slower projected growth in the utilization of skilled nursing facility services, higher costs and lower income in 2018 than expected, lower real discount rates, and a shift in the valuation period.

Related:
Medicare’s fiscal outlook deteriorates as 2026 funding cliff looms, Trump administration says
Source: Jeff Stein, Washington Post, April 22, 2019

Medicare, Social Security face shaky fiscal futures
Source: Andrew Taylor, Associated Press, April 22, 2019

The Social Security Program and Its Funding Problems

Source: John G. Kilgour, Compensation & Benefits Review, First Published March 4, 2019
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
2018 was a pivotal year for the Social Security program. It was the first year since the 1983 amendments that the Old Age, Survivors and Disability Insurance (OASDI) trust funds spent more than they took in. This will continue until they are depleted in 2034. This article examines the operation of the OASDI program with particular attention to its funding. It concludes by questioning the myth that, until 2018, the OASDI trust funds held large amounts of surpluses. There has never been any real money there. It was spent by the Treasury Department as fast as it came in. The OASDI program has always been a pay-as-you-go system. That should be recognized by anyone involved in crafting a solution to the problem.

Social Security Primer

Source: Congressional Research Service, CRS Report, R42035, Updated February 7, 2019

Social Security provides monthly cash benefits to retired or disabled workers and their family members, and to the family members of deceased workers. Among the beneficiary population, almost 83% are retired or disabled workers; family members of retired, disabled, or deceased workers make up the remainder. In December 2018, approximately 62.9 million beneficiaries received a total of $84.4 billion in benefit payments for the month; the average monthly benefit was $1,342. Workers become eligible for Social Security benefits for themselves and their family members by working in Social Security-covered employment. An estimated 94% of workers in paid employment or self-employment are covered, and their earnings are subject to the Social Security payroll tax. Employers and employees each pay 6.2% of covered earnings, up to an annual limit on taxable earnings ($132,900 in 2019). ….

…. This report provides an overview of Social Security financing and benefits under current law. Specifically, the report covers the origins and a brief history of the program; Social Security financing and the status of the trust funds; how Social Security benefits are computed; the types of Social Security benefits available toworkersand their family members; the basic eligibility requirements for each type of benefit; the scheduled increase in the Social Security retirement age; and the federal income taxation of Social Security benefits. ….

Retirement Security: Alternate Price Indexes for Cost-of-Living Adjustments Present Tradeoffs

Source: U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), GAO-19-218R: Published: Jan 28, 2019. Publicly Released: Jan 28, 2019.

From the summary:
Cost-of-living adjustments can help ensure that federal benefits keep pace with inflation. Using a consumer price index to adjust benefits can help ensure that recipients have enough purchasing power to get what they need.

Social Security and other federal retirement programs generally use one of the four consumer price indexes maintained by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

We looked at what switching indexes would mean for people’s benefits and federal spending. For example, people who retire earlier or have lower incomes would feel the largest effects of any change.

Social Security Finances: Findings of the 2018 Trustees Report

Source: Elliot Schreur and Benjamin Veghte, National Academy of Social Insurance, June 2018

From the abstract:
The 2018 Report of the Social Security Trustees projects that revenues will be sufficient to pay all scheduled benefits until 2034 and roughly three quarters of scheduled benefits thereafter. In 2017, Social Security income from payroll contributions, tax revenues, and interest on reserves exceeded outgo by $44 billion. Reserves, now at $2.9 trillion, are projected to begin to be drawn down in 2018 in order to pay full scheduled benefits. The Disability Insurance (DI) Trust Fund is projected to cover scheduled benefits until 2032, and the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI) Trust Fund until 2034.1 On a combined OASDI basis, Social Security is fully funded until 2034, but faces a projected shortfall thereafter. After the projected depletion of the combined OASDI trust funds, Social Security contributions and tax revenues would continue to be received and would cover about 79 percent of scheduled benefits (and administrative costs, which are less than 1 percent of outgo). The long-range actuarial shortfall over 75 years is projected to be 2.84 percent of taxable payroll – that is, 2.84 percent of all earnings that are subject to Social Security contributions. This projected long-term revenue shortfall is substantially unchanged from the 2.83 percent of taxable payroll reported in the 2017 Trustees Report. Timely revenue increases and/or benefit reductions could bring the program into long-term balance, preventing the projected shortfall.

Related:
Social Security 2018 Trustees Report
Source: Board of Trustees of the Federal Old-Age and Survivors Insurance and Federal Disability Insurance Trust Funds

Social Security and Saving: An Update

Source: Sita Slavov, Devon Gorry, Aspen Gorry, Frank N. Caliendo, Public Finance Review, First Published May 2, 2018
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
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 evidence to support the predictions from the theoretical model. We explore possible reasons for the lack of strong empirical findings.

The Poverty Reduction of Social Security and Means-Tested Transfers

Source: Bruce D. Meyer, Derek Wu, National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), NBER Working Paper No. 24567, May 2018
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
Many studies examine the anti-poverty effects of social insurance and means-tested transfers, relying solely on survey data with substantial errors. We improve on past work by linking administrative data from Social Security and five large means-tested transfers (SSI, SNAP, Public Assistance, the EITC, and housing assistance) to 2008-2013 Survey of Income and Program Participation data. Using the linked data, we find that Social Security cuts the poverty rate by a third – more than twice the combined effect of the five means-tested transfers. Among means-tested transfers, the EITC and SNAP are most effective. All programs except for the EITC sharply reduce deep poverty (below 50% of the poverty line), while the impact of the EITC is more pronounced at 150% of the poverty line. For the elderly, Social Security single-handedly slashes poverty by 75%, more than 20 times the combined effect of the means-tested transfers. While single parent families benefit more from the EITC, SNAP, and housing assistance, they are still relatively underserved by the safety net, with the six programs together reducing their poverty rate by only 38%. SSI, Public Assistance, and housing assistance have the highest share of benefits going to the pre-transfer poor, while the EITC has the lowest. Finally, the survey data alone provide fairly accurate estimates for the overall population at the poverty line, although they understate the effects of Social Security, SNAP, and Public Assistance. However, there are more striking differences at other income cutoffs and for specific family types. For example, the survey data yield 1) effects of SNAP and Public Assistance on near poverty that are two-thirds and one-half what the administrative data generate and 2) poverty reduction effects of SSI, Social Security, and Public Assistance that are 34-44% of what the administrative data produce for single parent families.

Related:
New evidence shows that our anti-poverty programs, especially Social Security, work well
Source: Michael Hiltzik, Los Angeles Times, May 7, 2018

Few U.S. government efforts are consistently more vilified than anti-poverty programs. They’re dismissed as ineffective and ridiculed as giveaways to undeserving recipients. A new paper puts the lie to these assertions by showing that the nation’s most important anti-poverty efforts all succeed in serving their goals — in the case of Social Security, spectacularly. The authors, Bruce D. Meyer and Derek Wu of the University of Chicago, used administrative statistics from six major programs to demonstrate that five of the six “sharply reduce deep poverty” (that is, income below 50% of the federal poverty line) and the sixth has a “pronounced” impact among the working poor…..