Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 67 No. 3

(released April 2008)
by Hilary Waldron

This article presents an analysis of trends in mortality differentials and life expectancy by socioeconomic status for male Social Security-covered workers aged 60 or older. Mortality differentials, cohort life expectancies, and period life expectancies by average relative earnings are estimated. Period life expectancy estimates for the United States are also compared with those of other Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries.

by Kalman Rupp, Alexander Strand, Paul S. Davies, and James Sears

The federal benefit rate (FBR) of the Supplemental Security Income program provides an inflation-indexed income guarantee for aged and disabled people with low assets. Some consider the FBR as an attractive measure of Social Security benefit adequacy. Others propose the FBR as an administratively simple, well-targeted minimum Social Security benefit. However, these claims have not been empirically tested. Using microdata from the Survey of Income and Program Participation, this article finds that the FBR is an imprecise measure of benefit adequacy; it incorrectly identifies as economically vulnerable many who are not poor, and disregards some who are poor. The reason for this is that the FBR-level benefit threshold of adequacy considers the Social Security benefit in isolation and ignores the family consumption unit. The FBR would provide an administratively simple but poorly targeted foundation for a minimum Social Security benefit. The empirical estimates quantify the substantial tradeoffs between administrative simplicity and target effectiveness.

by Anya Olsen and Kevin Whitman

This article provides an overview of the literature on best practices for retirement savings plan design and financial education in the workplace. Without a successful plan design, financial education will not be effective and even a well-structured plan can fail to achieve retirement savings goals without financial education. The main components of a retirement savings program that employers must consider include options for enrollment, investment choices, employer matching of contributions, and distributions over the working career and at retirement. In addition, employers control the core aspects of financial education, such as the topics covered, the delivery methods used, the frequency with which it is offered, and its general availability.

by Clark Burdick and T. Lynn Fisher

Old-Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance (OASDI, Social Security) benefits are indexed for inflation to protect beneficiaries from the loss of purchasing power implied by inflation. In the absence of such indexing, the purchasing power of Social Security benefits would be eroded as rising prices raised the cost of living. Recently, the Consumer Price Index used to calculate the Cost-of-Living-Adjustment (COLA) for OASDI benefits has come under increased scrutiny. Some argue that the current index does not accurately reflect the inflation experienced by seniors and that COLAs should be larger. Others argue that the measure of inflation underlying the COLA has technical limitations that cause it to overestimate changes in the cost of living and that COLAs should be smaller. This article discusses some of the issues involved with indexing Social Security benefits for inflation and examines the ramifications of potential changes to COLA calculations.

by David Rajnes

This article examines the development of Japanese voluntary employer-sponsored retirement plans with an emphasis on recent trends. Before 2001, companies in Japan offered retirement benefits as lump-sum severance payments and/or benefits from one of two types of defined benefit (DB) pension plans. One DB plan type was based on an earlier occupational pension model used in the United States. The other DB plan type allowed companies to opt out of the earnings-related portion of social security. Landmark laws passed in 2001 introduced a new generation of occupational retirement plans to employers and employees, creating three new DB plan designs and two new defined contribution types of plans. Since that time, the mix of employer-sponsored retirement plans offered in Japan has changed significantly, and overall employee coverage has declined. On balance, employer-sponsored retirement plans have remained largely DB in design.