Research & Analysis by Barbara A. Smith
Where Is Information About Social Security Retirement Benefits Provided to the Public? An Initial Assessment
Research has documented how knowledgeable Americans are about certain aspects of Social Security programs and benefits. As a result, researchers have identified information gaps in both the types of knowledge that individuals optimally should have and the demographic groups who would most benefit from informational outreach. However, research has not investigated the settings in which Social Security information is or could be provided to the public by sources other than the Social Security Administration. This article explores the presence and extent of Social Security information provided to employees in workplaces, servicemembers in military facilities, students in secondary and postsecondary schools, and participants in religious and community organization settings. The authors visited seminars and classes; interviewed trainers and educators; and reviewed textbooks, other publications, and Internet content to assess where this important information is—or could be—provided to the public.
Can Informational Interventions Be Effective Policy Tools? An Initial Assessment of the Social Security Statement
To inform workers about potential future Social Security benefits, the Social Security Administration employs an informational intervention: mailing Social Security Statements. In this article, the author uses linear probability models and agency administrative data to analyze a behavioral effect of Statement receipt; specifically, its effect on the age at which workers claim their retirement benefits. Results for individuals who received one Statement mailing by age 62 are compared with those for individuals who received multiple mailings, and with those who received none, during the 1975–2007 study period. Workers who received multiple Statements were found to be significantly more likely to claim retirement benefits at later ages than were other workers, and Statement receipt was positively associated with employment at ages 62–70. The author also compares the relative effects of an educational outreach (in the form of Statement mailings) and a direct policy change (involving the full retirement age) on claiming behavior and finds that the magnitudes of the two effects are similar.
Although Hispanics rely more on Social Security benefits for retirement income than other population groups, their knowledge about the programs is shallower. The authors of this article use data from a large Internet survey panel to identify gaps in Social Security knowledge between Hispanics and non-Hispanic whites and among Hispanics across ancestry and primary-language groups and test the statistical significance of their findings. The results offer insights for further research and guidance for policy that aims to promote retirement security for U.S. Hispanics.
Hispanics' Understanding of Social Security and the Implications for Retirement Security: A Qualitative Study
This article discusses why effective outreach to Hispanics is important to improve their understanding of Social Security and enhance their retirement security. It examines Social Security literacy and preferred ways of receiving information about the program by using focus groups of three ancestries (Mexican, Puerto Rican, and Cuban) and of English and Spanish speakers. This article is one of the first to research between-group differences and discuss their implications.
Public pension statements are one way for countries to provide workers with information about their retirement benefits. This article compares public pension statements in Canada, Sweden, and the United States. The comparison includes brief descriptions of the public pension programs in each country, details on the origins and content of the public pension statements, and an assessment of the information provided in the three countries' respective public pension statements.
The Social Security Administration began mailing annual earnings and benefit statements to workers aged 60 or older in 1995, and increased its mailings to include workers in younger age groups in succeeding years. In 1998, the agency commissioned the Gallup Organization to evaluate the effects of these statements on the public's knowledge of Social Security programs and benefits. This article briefly describes the development and implementation of the Social Security Statement; discusses the Gallup surveys conducted in 1998 and 2001; and uses data from those surveys to compare, for workers aged 46 or younger, knowledge about Social Security before and after receipt of the Social Security Statement.
In 1995, the Social Security Administration (SSA) began mailing annual earnings and benefit statements to workers aged 60 or older. By 2000, SSA was sending these statements to all workers aged 25 or older. It was the largest customized mailing ever undertaken by a federal agency. This article describes the development and implementation of the Social Security Statement; the changes in its distribution, content, and appearance over time; its relationship to SSA's strategic plans; and the surveys SSA commissioned to measure public awareness and knowledge of Social Security.