Research and Analysis by Howard M. Iams
Social Security benefits are the most important source of U.S. retirement income. Over time, however, trends in employer-provided pension offerings, societal changes, and Social Security program rule changes have altered the distribution of income by source among the aged population. In this article, the authors examine the reliance on Social Security benefits of people aged 65 or older using data from the Current Population Survey, the Survey of Income and Program Participation, and the Health and Retirement Study.
Contributory Retirement Saving Plans: Differences Across Earnings Groups and Implications for Retirement Security
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 linked 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.
This note examines how changes in women's labor force participation and lifetime earnings will affect the Social Security benefits of future beneficiary wives. The Social Security Administration's Modeling Income in the Near Term (version 7) projects that at least four-fifths of wives in the late baby boom (born 1956–1965) and generation X (born 1966–1975) cohorts will receive their initial Social Security benefits based solely on their own earnings. For wives in those cohorts, most of the average benefit amount (91–92 percent) will be attributable to their own earnings histories.
This article explores how faster rates of wage growth for college graduates than for nongraduates could affect the Social Security benefits of future retirees. Using a Social Security Administration microsimulation model called Modeling Income in the Near Term, the authors estimate the effect of different rates of wage growth by educational attainment on the future earnings and Social Security benefits of individuals born between 1965 and 1979, sometimes referred to as “Generation X.” They find that for members of the 1965–1979 birth cohorts, different rates of wage growth by education would substantially increase the gap in annual earnings between college graduates and nongraduates, but that differences in Social Security benefits would increase by a smaller proportion, primarily because of Social Security's progressive benefit formula.
This article provides an update of the relationship between pension plan coverage and firm size among private-sector workers, using data from the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) for 3 years: 2006, 2009, and 2012. Following previous work, our measures of pension coverage and participation take into account, and correct for, survey-response errors in the SIPP by using information in the W-2 records regarding tax-deferred earnings to defined contribution plans. The authors' findings show that compared with 2006, the offer and participation rates of any pension plan slightly increased in 2009 and 2012. Throughout the 2006–2012 period, offer and participation rates differed substantially by firm size, whereas there was little difference in the take-up rate.
This article presents descriptive statistics on pension participation and the types of plans among married couples, using data from the 1996 and 2008 Panels of the Survey of Income and Program Participation and Social Security administrative records. The findings indicate that in only 20 percent of couples, neither of the spouses participated in a pension plan; in about 10 percent of couples, the wife was the only one participating in a retirement plan; and in 37 percent of couples, the husband was the only one participating. Despite the substantial changes in pension landscape over the past decade, the findings reveal only modest changes in participation rates and in the types of plans respondents participated in between 1998 and 2009.
The deduction of Medicare premiums from Social Security benefit payments complicates the estimation of Social Security income in household surveys. Although the Census Bureau's Current Population Survey (CPS) and Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) both aim to collect and record gross Social Security benefit income before Medicare premium deductions, comparing the survey data with Social Security records indicates that the CPS and SIPP estimates differ and suggests that some survey respondents may report net benefit income.
The authors investigate the extent of changes in workers' participation and contributions to defined contribution (DC) plans during the Great Recession of 2007–2009. Using longitudinal information from Social Security W-2 tax records matched to a nationally representative sample of respondents from the Survey of Income and Program Participation, they find that the recent economic downturn had a considerable impact on workers' participation and contributions to DC plans. A sizable segment of 2007 participants (39 percent) decreased their contributions to DC plans by more than 10 percent during the Great Recession. The findings also highlight the interrelationship between the dynamics in DC contributions and earnings changes.
The income of the aged is composed largely of Social Security benefits, asset income, and pension income. Over the past three decades, the primary form of employer-sponsored pension has shifted from the traditional defined benefit plan to defined contribution plans, such as the 401(k). That trend creates problems for measuring the income of the aged because most household surveys of income either do not collect information about distributions from defined contribution retirement accounts or do not include those distributions in their summary measures of income. This article examines the impact of including distributions from retirement accounts on the estimated income of families headed by persons aged 65 or older.
This article discusses the importance of 401(k)-type defined contribution plans and individual retirement accounts in providing retirement income for current and future retirees. The rising prevalence and importance of this type of income creates measurement errors in the Current Population Survey and other sources of data on the income of the aged because those sources substantially underreport the distributions from such retirement plans.
The Implications of Marital History Change on Women's Eligibility for Social Security Wife and Widow Benefits, 1990–2009
Social Security retirement-age benefits in the United States reflect marital histories and lifetime earnings of current and former married couples. We examine women's marital history patterns and spouse and widow benefit eligibility over the past two decades, 1990 and 2009. Our analysis reveals substantial changes in women's marital patterns among the baby boom and generation X cohorts. We find a substantial decline in qualifying marital histories for Social Security spouse and widow benefits. The results reveal considerable variation by race and Hispanic origin.
This article examines how retirement income at age 67 is likely to change for baby boomers and generation Xers compared with current retirees. The authors use the Modeling Income in the Near Term model to project retirement income, assets, poverty rates, and replacement rates for current and future retirees at age 67. In absolute terms, retirement incomes of future cohorts will increase over time, and poverty rates will fall. However, projected income gains are larger for high than for low socioeconomic groups, leading to increased income inequality among future retirees.
Of particular interest in this article is the relationship between firm size and pension coverage and participation because small businesses tend to be less likely to offer retirement benefits to their employees than do large businesses. This relationship is particularly important given the current administration's retirement proposals to create automatic individual retirement accounts. Obviously, accurate information is important not only in formulating retirement income security policies that target workers without retirement plan coverage, but also to assess the impact of such policies on workers' retirement plan participation.
Defined Contribution Pension Participation and Contributions by Earnings Levels Using Administrative Data
This article examines the relationship between earnings levels and participation and contribution rates in defined contribution (DC) retirement plans. Specifically, the article estimates DC plan participation and contribution rates in 2006 both by the worker's current earnings and by the annual average of real earnings over the 10-year period 1997–2006. Using these two different measures of earnings allows us to assess whether employing a longer period of earnings, such as a decade, provides a better representation of pension outcomes than the short-term measure of current earnings.
The Impact of Response Error on Participation Rates and Contributions to Defined Contribution Pension Plans
The accuracy of information about coverage and contributions to defined contribution (DC) pension plans is important in understanding the economic well-being of future retirees because these plans are an increasingly important part of retirement income security. Using data from the 1996 and 2004 panels of the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) merged with information from W-2 tax records, we examine the extent to which estimated participation rates and contribution amounts to DC plans derived from SIPP reports differ from estimates obtained from tax-deferred contributions in the W-2 tax records.
The Disappearing Defined Benefit Pension and Its Potential Impact on the Retirement Incomes of Baby Boomers
A large share of traditional defined benefit pension plans have frozen within the past decade and evidence suggests that this trend will continue in the future. This article uses the Model of Income in the Near Term (MINT) microsimulation model to project the impact on boomers' retirement incomes of freezing traditional pension plans and replacing them with 401(k)-type plans. The projections suggest that the largest impact will be for the most recent boomers born between 1961 and 1965.
Earnings Sharing in Social Security: Projected Impacts of Alternative Proposals Using the MINT Model
Earnings sharing is an alternate method of calculating Social Security retirement benefits whereby earnings are assumed to be shared by married couples. This article presents a microsimulation analysis to estimate the impact of three earnings sharing proposals on the aged population of married, divorced, and widowed men and women in 2030. The impact of earnings sharing differs by marital status and sex, as measured by the percentage change in benefits and by the percentage of beneficiaries with increased and reduced benefits.
This article uses different sources of United States data to focus on the retirement resources of women aged 55–64 in 2004, 1994, and 1984. Notable changes have occurred with women's pathways into retirement resulting from increased education and lifetime work experience. There appear marked cohort differences in potential retirement outcomes.
This article examines pension participation and nonpension net worth of two cohorts of near retirees. Particularly, the authors look at people born in 1933 through 1939 who were ages 55–61 in 1994, and the more recent cohort consisting of people of the same age in 2004 who were born in 1943 through 1949. Data are from the Health and Retirement Study, a longitudinal, nationally representative survey of older Americans.
A Profile of Children with Disabilities Receiving SSI: Highlights from the National Survey of SSI Children and Families
This article, based on interviews from the National Survey of SSI Children and Families conducted between July 2001 and June 2002, presents a profile of children under the age of 18 who were receiving support from the Supplemental Security Income program. The topics highlighted provide information of SSI children with disabilities and their families not available from administrative records, including demographic characteristics, income and assets, perceived health and disabilities, and health care utilization. While virtually every child in the SSI program is covered by some form of health insurance, primarily Medicaid, the data indicate substantial heterogeneity on other variables. This is true on many different dimensions, such as the perceived severity of the child's disabling conditions, health care utilization and service needs, the presence of other family members with disabilities, family demographics, and access to non-SSI sources of incomes.
This article assesses the role of Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) in the economic well-being of baby-boomer retirees and their predecessors. The results suggest that, similar to current retirees, Social Security will account for about two-fifths of projected income for baby-boomer retirees. On average, SSI will contribute almost nothing to total income and will be received by fewer baby-boomer retirees than by current retirees. Although baby boomers can expect higher incomes and lower poverty rates at retirement than current retirees have, they can also expect lower replacement rates. The decline in replacement rates is driven, in part, by a decline in Social Security replacement rates.
This article presents three measures of the distributional effects of Social Security benefits on actual and projected retirement income of workers born between 1931 and 1960. Microsimulations take into account marital history, the sharing of incomes and tax burdens within couples, and differences in life expectancy among subgroups of the population. More important than changes in tax rates or benefits are changes in the demographics and earnings patterns of the workforce, particularly the higher lifetime covered earnings of women. The growing share of women receiving worker benefits instead of spouse or survivor benefits, plus the increased proportion of retirees who are divorced, make Old-Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI) benefits more progressive, even in the face of declining net benefits.
The elderly (persons aged 65 or older) are financially better off than ever before. Overall, poverty rates for the elderly have fallen since 1976, median real income has risen, and median income relative to that of the working-age population has been relatively stable. One factor in these improvements is increases in Social Security benefits that generally pay enough to keep independently living elderly persons out of poverty. Most demographic subgroups have shared the reduction in poverty rates. By all measures, however, the economic status of elderly Hispanics has not improved.
This article describes the economic resources and economic well-being of future divorced women at retirement using data from the Social Security Administration's project on Modeling Income in the Near Term (MINT). The MINT model projects that in the near term, there will be more divorced women of retirement age. Because fewer of those women are projected to meet the 10-year marriage requirement, the proportion of economically vulnerable aged women is expected to increase when the baby boom retires.
This paper summarizes the work completed by SSA, with substantial assistance from the Brookings Institution, RAND, and the Urban Institute, for the Modeling Income in the Near Term (MINT I) model. In most cases, several methods of estimating and projecting demographic characteristics and income were researched and tested; however, this appendix describes only those methods eventually used in the MINT I model.
The Effect of Welfare Reform on SSA's Disability Programs: Design of Policy Evaluation and Early Evidence
Recent legislation has affected the populations served by the Social Security Administration's (SSA's) disability programs. The Contract with America Advancement Act of 1996 mandated that persons whose disability determination was based on drug addiction or alcoholism be removed from the Supplemental Security Income and Social Security Disability Insurance rolls. The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (later amended by the Balanced Budget Act of 1997) tightened the SSI eligibility criteria for children and converted the Aid to Families with Dependent Children program into a block grant, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. This article describes the design of three related studies evaluating the direct and indirect effects of these policy changes on SSA's disability populations. It describes the methodological challenges of the studies and the strategies used to overcome them. It also presents early evidence from the three studies and discusses future directions.
Projecting Retirement Income of Future Retirees with Panel Data: Results from the Modeling Income in the Near Term (MINT) Project
This article describes a model that projects the retirement income of Social Security beneficiaries from 1997 through 2031 using a number of panel data sources. With these data, we examine the composition of retirement income for future retirees in various birth cohorts, racial groups, marital states, and educational categories.
This article addresses the importance of using data for couples rather than individuals to estimate Social Security benefits. We show how individual data can underestimate actual Social Security benefits, particularly for women, and discuss how its use has implications for policy evaluation.
This study evaluates the effects of changing the averaging period used to calculate Social Security benefits from 35 years to 38 or 40 years and the introduction of a minimum benefit provision for future retirees born during the early part of the baby boom generation. Proposals to change the averaging period have been recommended by a majority of the 1994–96 Advisory Council on Social Security. Based on the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) matched to Social Security Administration earnings records, the study projects retirement benefits for different subgroups of the population under existing and proposed benefit rules. The magnitudes of the retirees' benefit changes vary by demographic group. The minimum benefit provision substantially mitigates the effects of the change to a 40-year averaging period for some groups of women.
Among older women, widows are more likely to live in poverty than married women. Thus, increasing Social Security benefits to widows seems desirable. Shifting some Social Security benefits from the period when women live as part of a couple to the period when they are widows could reduce poverty. This article uses the 1991 Survey of Income and Program Participation exactly matched to the Social Security Administration's record of benefits to evaluate the effect on poverty rates of four cost-neutral proposals that transfer Social Security benefits from married couples to surviving widows. The policies would moderately decrease poverty rates among older women by reducing the rate for widows more than the slight increase in the rate for couples. The evaluated proposals include a proposal supported by the majority of the 1994-96 Advisory Council on Social Security that would calculate the survivor's benefit as 75 percent of the couple's benefit, reduce the spouse's benefit from 50 to 33 percent of the husband's benefit, and reduce benefits by 1.5 percent.
Accurate projections of lifetime earnings are useful in projecting Social Security benefits, trust fund balances, and economic resources of the elderly and the effects of changes in Social Security policy. This article projects lifetime Social Security earnings until retirement using data from the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) matched to Social Security records of annual earnings from 1951 through 1993.
We first develop, estimate, and test gender-specific multiple regression models of 10-year earnings intervals using the matched 1984 SIPP panel. We find strong relationships predicting the mean indexed monthly earnings level in the 10-year period of 1984-93. We then use the models to project (unobserved) Social Security earnings from 1994 through retirement for persons born between 1931 and 1955. By adding projected earnings to observed annual earnings to date, we forecast lifetime Social Security earnings for persons retiring early in the 21st century.
Changing Social Security Benefits to Reflect Child-Care Years: A Policy Proposal Whose Time Has Passed?
This article estimates the effects of proposals to increase the retirement benefits of women who reduce their earnings to care for young children. Using the 1990 Survey of Income and Program Participation file—exactly matched to the Social Security Administration's record of lifetime earnings—the authors present the distribution of child-care dropout years by retirement cohort and other demographic characteristics, and estimate the dollar impact of adjustments for caregiving years. The policies examined do increase the retirement benefits of some women, but the increases on average are small, are lowered with each successive retirement cohort, and benefit women from the more privileged socioeconomic groups. Thus, because the policy effects are small and will diminish in the future, the time of efficacy for these proposals has passed. Subsidizing child-care dropout years does not seem to be a well-targeted policy.