Research & Analysis by Steven H. Sandell
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.
Deeming Rules and the Increase in the Number of Children With Disabilities Receiving SSI: Evaluating the Effects of a Regulatory Change
This article examines a source of the growth in the SSI children's program: a relatively minor and little-noticed change in the financial eligibility rules. The way parental earnings were counted as income, or "deemed" to children (to use SSA language) was changed. The new, more generous financial eligibility rules added a small but significant number of recipients to the rolls after 1992 and also increased the benefit amounts for many of those already receiving SSI. Using SSA administrative data and a simulation technique, this article estimates how much the deeming policy change contributed to the expansion of the rolls and the cost of the program. We estimate that program costs of the deeming rule change were approximately $63 million annually in 1993 dollars. The change led to a 2-percent increase in the number of children on the rolls.
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.