Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 64, No. 3

(released January 2003)
by Kelvin R. Utendorf

This article examines the upper part of the earnings distribution for the period 1982–1995 using Social Security Administration data. The study shows that the earnings share of persons in the top 0.1 percent of the earnings distribution grew much faster over that period than did the share of those in any other part of the distribution.

by Thomas Hungerford, Matthew Rassette, Howard M. Iams, and Melissa Koenig

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.

by Seyda G. Wentworth and David Pattison

This article estimates effects of future growth in income on the poverty rates of the elderly. If real earnings and other income were to increase steadily at 1 percent per year, poverty among the elderly, 10.5 percent in 1997, would decrease to about 7.2 percent in 2020 and to 4.1 percent in 2047, assuming no Social Security benefit reductions to maintain solvency. The article discusses several other aspects that might affect future poverty rates, including changes in other income components like Supplemental Security Income, earnings, and pensions; changes in longevity and marital patterns; and changes in the distribution of earnings.

by Paul S. Davies

This article models Supplemental Security Income (SSI) eligibility and participation among persons aged 70 or older using data from the Study of Assets and Health Dynamics Among the Oldest Old. An econometric model estimates the influence of socioeconomic characteristics on the probability of SSI participation among eligible units. Finally, a policy simulation is conducted by increasing the unearned income disregard from $20 to $125.

by Alicia H. Munnell, Annika Sundén, and Catherine Taylor

In addition to variables such as age, income, and job tenure, the length of an employee's planning horizon is a crucial factor affecting participation in and contribution to a 401(k) plan. On the plan side, the most important factors are the availability of matching contributions from the employer and the ability of employees to gain access to their funds before retirement through borrowing. Good information about the need for retirement savings and good plan design could significantly increase eligible employees' participation and contributions.

by James Sears

This note focuses on participation in two entitlement programs that help reduce out-of-pocket expenses for low-income Medicare beneficiaries: the Qualified Medicare Beneficiary (QMB) program and the Specified Low-Income Medicare Beneficiary (SLMB) program. As of 1999, about 2.75 million eligible, noninstitutionalized individuals were not enrolled in these Medicare savings programs. The eligible nonparticipants differed substantially from the QMB and SLMB participants in that they were less likely to be Supplemental Security Income beneficiaries and more likely to be elderly, nonblack, and in relatively good health. These findings, which could help target future outreach efforts, are based on Survey of Income and Program Participation data matched with administrative records from the Social Security Administration.