Issue Papers

Social Security Retirement Benefits and Private Annuities: A Comparative Analysis
No. 2017-01 (released May 2017)
by Dale Kintzel

Retirement income in the United States has been described as a three-legged stool composed of Social Security benefits, personal savings, and employer-based retirement plans. For the latter, today's workers usually have a defined contribution plan in which the worker and employer contribute to the plan and the worker bears the risk for account performance. At retirement, the worker has the option of purchasing an annuity, which is similar to Social Security benefits and traditional defined benefit pension plans insofar as they provide a steady income stream for life. This issue paper examines the similarities and differences between Social Security retirement benefits and annuities, and the factors that determine how much lifetime retirement income an individual would receive.

Income Taxes on Social Security Benefits
No. 2015-02 (released December 2015)
by Patrick J. Purcell

Since 1984, Social Security beneficiaries with total income exceeding certain thresholds have been required to pay federal income tax on some of their benefit income. Because those income thresholds have remained unchanged while wages have increased, the proportion of beneficiaries who must pay income tax on their benefits has risen over time. A Social Security Administration microsimulation model projects that an annual average of about 56 percent of beneficiary families will owe federal income tax on part of their benefit income from 2015 through 2050. The median percentage of benefit income owed as income tax by beneficiary families will rise from 1 percent to 5 percent over that period. If Congress does not adjust income tax brackets upward to approximate the historical ratio of taxes to national income, the proportion of benefit income owed as income tax will exceed these projections.

Social Security Disability Insurance at Age 60: Does It Still Reflect Congress' Original Intent?
No. 2015-01 (released September 2015)
by Paul O'Leary, Elisa Walker, and Emily Roessel

Congress established the Social Security Disability Insurance (DI) program in 1956, after more than 20 years of debate. From the outset of the debate, however, there had been general agreement that the DI program should be for workers with substantial work histories, be funded through payroll taxes, include stringent disability criteria, provide modest benefit levels, and require return-to-work supports. Using administrative data on current DI beneficiaries, this issue paper examines how the program reflects those original tenets as it nears its 60th anniversary.

Social Security and Marginal Returns to Work Near Retirement
No. 2009-02 (released April 2009)
by Gayle L. Reznik, David A. Weaver, and Andrew G. Biggs

Using the Social Security Administration's MINT (Modeling Income in the Near Term) model, this paper calculates the marginal returns to work near retirement, as measured by the increase in benefits associated with an additional year of employment at the end of an individual's work life. With exceptions for certain population subgroups, the analysis finds that marginal returns on Social Security taxes paid near retirement are generally low. The paper also tests the effects on marginal returns of a variety of potential Social Security policy changes designed to improve incentives to work.

A Progressivity Index for Social Security
No. 2009-01 (released January 2009)
by Andrew G. Biggs, Mark A. Sarney, and Christopher R. Tamborini

Using the Social Security Administration's MINT (Modeling Income in the Near Term) model, this paper analyzes the progressivity of the Old-Age, Survivors and Disability Insurance (OASDI) program for current and future retirees. It uses a progressivity index that provides a summary measure of the distribution of taxes and benefits on a lifetime basis. Results indicate that OASDI lies roughly halfway between a flat replacement rate and a flat dollar benefit for current retirees. Projections suggest that progressivity will remain relatively similar for future retirees. In addition, the paper estimates the effects of several policy changes on progressivity for future retirees.

Poverty-level Annuitization Requirements in Social Security Proposals Incorporating Personal Retirement Accounts
No. 2005-01 (released April 2005)
by Dave Shoffner, Andrew G. Biggs, and Preston Jacobs

In the current discussions of Social Security reform, voluntary personal retirement accounts have been proposed. Recent research and debate have focused on several aspects of these accounts, including how such accounts would affect aggregate saving, system finances, and benefit levels. Little attention, however, has been paid to policies that would govern the distribution of account balances. This analysis considers such policies with respect to the annuitization of account balances at retirement using the Social Security Administration's Modeling Income in the New Term (MINT) model and a modified version of a recent legislative proposal to evaluate the effects of partial annuitization requirements.

Treatment of Married Couples in the SSI Program
No. 2003-01 (released December 2003)
by Richard Balkus and Susan Wilschke

The Supplemental Security Income program serves as an income source of last resort for elderly or disabled individuals. This analysis identifies how marital status affects benefit rates and the counting of income and resources in determining eligibility.