Selected Research & Analysis: Socioeconomic Characteristics > Earnings or Income
The authors use data from the March 2017 Annual Social and Economic Supplement of the Current Population Survey matched to Social Security administrative records to produce tables providing detailed information on the economic and demographic characteristics of Disability Insurance beneficiaries and Supplemental Security Income recipients in calendar year 2016. The tables update those published in a 2015 Research and Statistics Note that used 2013 data from the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP), a 2014 Research and Statistics Note that used 2010 SIPP data, and a 2008 Research and Statistics Note that used 2002 SIPP data. For this note, the authors add tables showing selected characteristics of Old-Age and Survivors Insurance beneficiaries.
Improving County-Level Earnings Estimates with a New Methodology for Assigning Geographic and Demographic Information to U.S. Workers
This article describes a new methodology developed by the Office of Research, Evaluation, and Statistics (ORES) of the Social Security Administration (SSA) to indicate the state and county of residence, date of birth, and sex of nearly all workers for whom tax records provide earnings data in a given year. Applying these geographic and demographic indicators will enable ORES to use a vastly larger sample of workers to generate annual earnings estimates. The current methodology assigns state and county codes and demographic information only to workers in SSA's 1-percent Continuous Work History Sample—fewer than 1.7 million workers in 2017. The new methodology would assign state and county codes and demographic information to more than 178 million workers for 2017. A much larger sample of workers mitigates the limitations associated with the current estimation process and enables ORES to generate more comprehensive and accurate county-level earnings estimates.
This article uses data from the public-use files of the Census Bureau's American Community Survey for selected years 2005–2018 to examine the annual housing expenditures of households that include at least one person who received income from Social Security. In all years, the median percentage of income spent on housing was higher in households that included at least one Social Security beneficiary than in households with no beneficiaries. In households with at least one Social Security beneficiary, the median share of income spent on housing varied by tenure. In the period 2005–2018, the median shares rose from 31.7 percent to 32.5 percent for renter households, declined from 27.3 percent to 25.1 percent for homeowner households with a mortgage, and declined from 13.9 percent to 12.4 percent for homeowner households without a mortgage.
Research has shown that survey-reported pension and retirement income measures may suffer from reporting errors, which lead to biased estimates of income and poverty of the aged population. In this paper, the authors evaluate income estimates from the Census Bureau's 2016 Current Population Survey (CPS) Annual Social and Economic Supplement (ASEC). The authors compare 2016 CPS ASEC public-use data with public-use survey data from the 2016 Health and Retirement Study and with CPS ASEC data that have been merged with administrative data from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Social Security Administration. They find that for the population aged 65 or older, supplementing the CPS ASEC with IRS and Social Security administrative data results in a higher estimate of pension income's share of aggregate income, less estimated reliance on Social Security, and a lower estimated rate of poverty. They also find that the HRS provides better estimates of the income of the aged population than the public-use CPS data.
Working and Claiming Behavior at Social Security's Early Eligibility Age Among Men by Lifetime Earnings Decile
Using a merged internal research file of administrative data from the Social Security Administration, the author examines men's working and retired-worker benefit claiming behavior at and around Social Security's early eligibility age of 62, and disaggregates the results by lifetime earnings decile. She also examines how mortality risk varies among men exhibiting different working and claiming behaviors, before and after controlling for the lifetime earnings decile to which they belong. This paper follows up ORES Working Paper No. 114, which details the study methodology and presents summary findings on men's and women's working and claiming behavior. Both papers find substantial heterogeneity in working and claiming behavior at age 62; in this paper, while differences in men's working and claiming behavior were sometimes observed between lifetime earnings deciles, that heterogeneity in behavior was also observed within each lifetime earnings decile.
The geographic mobility rate of U.S. workers has declined in recent decades. Labor mobility has historically indicated variations between local areas in earnings and other economic conditions. Because average career earnings determine Social Security retirement benefit levels, changing trends in geographic mobility and earnings may have implications for workers' future benefits. The author uses administrative data on earnings from the Social Security Administration's Continuous Work History Sample to examine trends in geographic mobility from 1994 to 2016 and to compare the earnings of working-age adults who moved to another county or state with the earnings of those who did not.
A retired worker's Social Security benefit depends in part on the age at which he or she claims benefits. Working longer and claiming benefits later increase the monthly benefit. Information about trends in employment at older ages and the age at which individuals claim Social Security benefits can help policymakers assess the effectiveness of current policies in influencing the timing of retirement and benefit claims. Both the labor force participation rate (LFPR) among older Americans and the age at which they claim Social Security retirement benefits have risen in recent years. For example, from 2000 through 2018, the LFPR among individuals aged 65–69 rose from 30 percent to 38 percent for men and from 19 percent to 29 percent for women. Since 2000, the proportion of fully insured men and women who claim retirement benefits at the earliest eligibility age of 62 has declined substantially.
The Social Security Administration maintains wage-and-salary earnings records for all American workers. From those administrative records, the agency extracts a 1-percent sample called the Continuous Work History Sample (CWHS) for research and statistical purposes. This article uses CWHS data to examine trends in women's real wage-and-salary earnings from 1981 through 2015. It first describes broad trends for all women aged 25–59. Then it describes the trends over that same span for women in each of seven 5-year age intervals (25–29, 30–34, 35–39, 40–44, 45–49, 50–54, and 55–59), with detail by individual birth cohort. A series of charts shows how women's real wages changed over time both across age groups and across birth cohorts within an age group.
When Every Dollar Counts: Comparing Reported Earnings of Social Security Disability Program Beneficiaries in Survey and Administrative Records
This article examines differences between survey- and administrative data–based estimates of employment and earnings for a sample of Social Security Administration (SSA) disability program beneficiaries. The analysis uses linked records from SSA's National Beneficiary Survey and administrative data from the agency's Master Earnings File. The authors find that estimated employment rates and earnings levels based on administrative data are higher than those based on survey data for beneficiaries overall and by sociodemographic subgroup. In proportional terms, the differences between survey and administrative data tend to be greater among subgroups with survey-reported employment rates that are lower than that of beneficiaries overall.
Retirement Savings Inequality: Different Effects of Earnings Shocks, Portfolio Selections, and Employer Contributions by Worker Earnings Level
Changes in accumulated retirement savings, particularly in employer-sponsored defined contribution (DC) plan balances, differ by worker earnings levels. Earnings shocks, portfolio diversification, and employer contributions to workers’ DC plans affect retirement savings for lower earners more than for higher earners. The authors match Survey of Income and Program Participation data to Social Security Administration earnings records and find factors underlying the different retirement savings outcomes by earnings level beyond mere differences in earnings.
Saving for retirement has traditionally been compared to a three-legged stool supported by Social Security benefits, workplace pensions, and household savings. As the prevalence of defined benefit pensions has diminished in recent decades, the importance of household savings has grown. To enable and encourage saving among lower-income Americans, policymakers have established several types of tax incentives. The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) provides an immediate reduction in income tax liability (or a larger refund) for eligible households. Additionally, certain types of retirement saving accounts and defined contribution saving plans lower current tax liability by deferring taxation of the amounts contributed until the funds are withdrawn in retirement. Using data from the Understanding America Study, this article compares the retirement-related financial behavior and preparedness of EITC-eligible and ineligible households and examines whether EITC eligibility affects the use of tax-advantaged retirement saving plans.
This article examines the extent and economic consequences of involuntary unemployment among private-sector workers aged 26–55 during the Great Recession. Using data from the 2008 panel of the Survey of Income and Program Participation, the authors document the effects of involuntary unemployment on earnings, income, and health insurance coverage during the economic downturn and compare outcomes across worker demographic subgroups. Those outcomes are tracked at annual intervals over a 3-year follow-up period and are compared with those of workers who did not experience a job loss. The authors discuss their findings in the context of retirement security in general and Social Security in particular.
The Social Security Administration maintains wage and salary earnings records for all American workers. From those administrative records, the agency extracts a 1 percent sample called the Continuous Work History Sample (CWHS) for research and statistical purposes. This article uses CWHS data to examine trends in men's real wage and salary earnings from 1981 through 2014. It first describes broad trends for all men aged 25–59. Then it describes the trends over that same span for men in each of seven 5-year age intervals (25–29, 30–34, 35–39, 40–44, 45–49, 50–54, and 55–59), with detail by individual birth cohort. A series of charts shows how men's real wages changed across age groups and birth cohorts within each age group.
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.
Social Security administrative data show that the earnings of individuals who apply for Disability Insurance benefits decline rapidly in the years prior to application. This article presents statistics on the average “decline period”—the time from the year of maximum earnings to the year of application—by general and specific primary diagnosis, sex, and age for individuals who filed applications during 2004–2013. The analysis compares decline periods for applicants whose claims were allowed with those for applicants whose claims were denied. Understanding decline-period variations may enable policymakers and service providers to target and customize preapplication support services to specific population subgroups.
This article examines the 2012 poverty status of eight Social Security adult type of benefit (TOB) groups using both the official poverty measure and the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM). For each TOB group, the article compares the SPM estimate with the official poverty measure estimate. In addition, it estimates the effects of various features of the SPM on poverty rates, noting why the SPM estimates differ from official estimates. For each poverty measure, the article also compares poverty estimates across groups.
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.
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.
In determining Supplemental Security Income (SSI) eligibility and payment levels for child applicants and recipients, the Social Security Administration attributes part of parental income to the child using a process called deeming. Parental-income deeming ends at age 18, relaxing a key SSI eligibility criterion for youths at that point. Using Social Security administrative records, this article presents data on the number and characteristics of youths who apply for SSI shortly before and after they turn 18. The author finds that the number of applications spikes at age 18 and that 18-year-old applicants are more likely than 17-year-olds to be allowed into the program. The author also compares the relative likelihood of subsequent employment for allowed and denied youth applicants.
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.
Employment, Earnings, and Primary Impairments Among Beneficiaries of Social Security Disability Programs
This article examines the employment and earnings of Disability Insurance beneficiaries and working-age Supplemental Security Income recipients across detailed primary-impairment categories. The authors use 2011 data from linked Social Security administrative files to identify which beneficiaries and recipients are most likely to have earnings and to have higher levels of earnings. They find substantial heterogeneity in these outcomes across primary impairments.
The authors present data on annual retirement income of American Indians and Alaska Natives (AIANs) from the American Community Survey and include separate analyses for AIANs of single-race and multiple-race backgrounds. The authors also compare retirement income of AIANs with that of whites and blacks and find that, overall, annual retirement income among all AIANs was significantly lower than that of whites and also of blacks.
Social Security's special minimum benefit is declining in relative value, does not provide a full benefit equal to the poverty threshold, and reaches fewer beneficiaries each year. Members of Congress and other key policymakers have proposed several methods for revising the special minimum benefit, either as part of reforming Social Security more broadly or as stand-alone policy options. Most of the new options would index the benefit to wages, helping ensure its sustainability into the future. The options differ in how they define a “year of coverage,” how many years of coverage are required to be eligible for any benefit increase, and how much the full benefit increase should be. Those choices will determine who will receive the benefit increase and how adequate their benefit will be.
The Effects of Alternative Demographic and Economic Assumptions on MINT Simulations: A Sensitivity Analysis
The Social Security Administration's (SSA's) Modeling Income in the Near Term (MINT) estimates income/wealth of future retirees. Estimates are based on demographic information from the Survey of Income and Program Participation: individual earnings histories and projections of interest rates, wage growth, mortality rates, and disability rates. Historically, MINT simulations were based exclusively on SSA's Office of the Chief Actuary's (OCACT's) intermediate-cost projections of key demographic/economic variables. The authors present the results of a sensitivity analysis in which they ran MINT using OCACT's low-cost/high-cost projections of mortality and disability trends. Those simulations estimated characteristics of the population aged 65 or older in 2040 under alternative projections of mortality/disability trends. The authors then describe simulations in which future real rates of return on stocks held in retirement accounts differ from the historical mean real rate of return used in baseline simulations. Sensitivity analyses can help MINT users choose model parameters with the greatest impact on simulation results.
Earnings and Disability Program Participation of Youth Transition Demonstration Participants after 24 Months
This article presents earnings and Social Security Administration (SSA) disability program payment outcomes for youths participating in SSA's Youth Transition Demonstration project. Participants were randomly assigned to treatment or control groups at each of six project sites. The author provides overviews of the project sites and compares treatment- and control-group youths' earnings 1 year and 2 years after random assignment, and disability program payment receipt 24 months after random assignment.
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 rising cost of employer contributions for employee health insurance reduces the percentage of compensation subject to Social Security payroll taxes. This article uses the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey to analyze trends in the cost of employer health insurance contributions relative to money wages and total compensation. The analysis shows how increasing employer health insurance premium costs from 1996 to 2008 reduced the percentage of compensation subject to payroll taxes, and it predicts the effects of health insurance reform on taxable compensation.
Mortality Differentials by Lifetime Earnings Decile: Implications for Evaluations of Proposed Social Security Law Changes
Under current law, the link between earnings and benefit levels and the equal application of age-of-entitlement rules, regardless of earnings levels, means that a worker is never penalized for additional work or thrift. This article finds that the Social Security–insured population does not fall neatly into a low-earnings poor health group and a remaining good health group. Attempts to target a subset of badly disadvantaged workers by altering the benefit rules that apply equally to everyone could both miss the intended target and introduce work disincentives into a program currently designed to reward work.
Profile of Social Security Disabled Workers and Dependents Who Have a Connection to Workers' Compensation or Public Disability Benefits
This note provides a comprehensive profile of the characteristics of disability beneficiaries with a connection to workers' compensation or public disability benefits (PDBs). The 8.3 percent of disabled workers who have this connection tend to be economically better off, more frequently middle aged, male, afflicted with a musculoskeletal and connective tissue disorder, and tend to wait longer to apply for social security disability benefits after onset than the general disabled-worker population. In our analysis, we have included a special focus on California, as this state represents a large portion of the PDB workload, and its experience has a substantial effect on the national picture.
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 Sensitivity of Proposed Social Security Benefit Formula Changes to Lifetime Earnings Definitions
Several Social Security proposals have included benefit formula changes that apply to earners above a specified percentage of the combined male and female (unisex) lifetime earnings distribution. This study finds that if Social Security's median unisex average indexed monthly earnings (AIME) amount is used to define an earnings threshold below which benefits will be held unreduced, the percentage of fully insured men subject to benefit reductions (70 percent) will exceed the unisex estimate of the population subject to benefit reductions (50 percent) by 20 percentage points. If policymakers wish to adjust future benefits and focus benefit reductions on middle or high primary or full-time wage earners in a household, the male, rather than unisex, AIME would come closer to achieving such a goal.
Measures of Health and Economic Well-Being Among American Indians and Alaska Natives Aged 62 or Older in 2030
This Research and Statistics Note uses Modeling Income in the Near Term (MINT) projections to provide an overview of the demographic, health, and economic characteristics of the American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN) population aged 62 or older in 2030. MINT projects that the AIAN population will fare worse than the overall aged population in 2030 according to measures of health status, work limitation status, disability status, lifetime earnings, per capita Social Security benefits, per capita income, per capita wealth, and poverty.
The authors use the Social Security Administration's Modeling Income in the Near Term (version 6) to describe the likely characteristics, work experience, Social Security benefit status, and economic well-being of future divorced women at age 70, by race and ethnicity. Factors associated with higher retirement incomes include having a college degree; having a strong history of labor force attachment; receiving Social Security benefits; and having pensions, retirement accounts, or assets, regardless of race and ethnicity. However, because divorced black and Hispanic women are less likely than divorced white women to have these attributes, income sources, or assets, their projected average retirement incomes are lower than those of divorced white women.
To project the retirement resources and well-being of divorced women, the authors use the Social Security Administration's Modeling Income in the Near Term (version 6). Findings show that Social Security benefits and retirement incomes are projected to increase for divorced women and that their poverty rates are projected to decline, due in large part to women's increasing lifetime earnings. However, not all divorced women will be equally well off; economic well-being in retirement varies by Social Security benefit type.
This article uses the Social Security Administration's Modeling Income in the Near Term (version 6) to examine how changes in married women's labor force participation and earnings will impact the Social Security benefits of current and future beneficiary wives. Over the next 30 years, a larger share of wives will be eligible for Social Security benefits based solely on their own earnings, and wives' average Social Security benefits are expected to increase by 50 percent. Despite rising female lifetime earnings, wives' earnings typically remain below those of their husbands, so many wives who are retired-worker-only beneficiaries while their husbands are alive will receive auxiliary benefits when their husbands die.
Higher labor force participation rates for people aged 62–79 are associated with a dramatic increase in the share of their total money income attributable to earnings. For persons aged 65–69, the earnings share increased from 28 percent in 1980 to 42 percent in 2009. Two decades ago, Social Security benefits and earnings were roughly equal shares of total money income (about 30 percent); the earnings share is now more than 12 percentage points larger. The marked increase in the importance of earnings as an income source is also evident throughout the 62–79 age range among Social Security beneficiaries.
Comparing Earnings Estimates from the 2006 Earnings Public-Use File and the Annual Statistical Supplement
The Social Security Administration recently released the 2006 Earnings Public-Use File (EPUF). The EPUF contains earnings information for individuals drawn from a systematic random 1-percent sample of all Social Security numbers issued before January 2007. This note presents the process of evaluating the earnings data in EPUF. It also identifies and explains four key differences between the data in EPUF and the estimates published in the Annual Statistical Supplement to the Social Security Bulletin. The note specifically compares EPUF data with Annual Statistical Supplement estimates of earnings, number of workers with earnings, median earnings by sex and age group, and percentage of workers with earnings below the taxable maximum by sex. After accounting for the expected differences, the remaining discrepancies between EPUF and Annual Statistical Supplement estimates are relatively small.
How Common is "Parking" among Social Security Disability Insurance Beneficiaries? Evidence from the 1999 Change in the Earnings Level of Substantial Gainful Activity
The authors explore the extent to which Social Security Disability Insurance (DI) beneficiaries restrain their earnings below the substantial gainful activity (SGA) level in order to maintain their cash benefits. The extent of “parking” is measured by exploiting the 1999 change in the nonblind SGA earnings level from $500 to $700 and assessing its effect on cohorts of DI beneficiaries who completed their trial work period, one of which was affected by the SGA change, and one that was not.
This article introduces the 2006 Earnings Public-Use File (EPUF), a data file containing earnings records for individuals drawn from a 1-percent sample of all Social Security numbers issued before January 2007. The EPUF contains selected demographic and earnings information for 4.3 million individuals. It provides aggregate earnings data for 1937 to 1950 and annual earnings data for 1951 to 2006.
Since its inception, Social Security has featured a taxable maximum (or "tax max"). In 1937, payroll taxes applied to the first $3,000 in earnings. In 2011, payroll taxes apply to the first $106,800 in earnings. This policy brief summarizes the changes that have occurred to the tax max and to earnings patterns over this period. From 1937 to 1975, Congress increased the tax max on an ad-hoc basis. Increases were justified by the desire to improve system financing and maintain meaningful benefits for middle and higher earners. Since 1975, the tax max has generally increased at the same rate as average wages each year. Some policymakers propose increasing the tax max beyond wage-indexed levels to help restore financial balance and to reflect growing earnings inequality, as workers earning more than the tax max have experienced higher earnings growth rates than other workers in recent decades.
This study uses survey and administrative data to analyze the characteristics of working-age Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income beneficiaries who report having work goals or expectations, and the extent to which these beneficiaries become employed and leave the disability rolls during a 4-year period.
Using data from the 2004–2006 National Beneficiary Surveys matched to Social Security administrative data, this study follows a cohort of disability beneficiaries participating in the Ticket to Work program for several years to assess changes in their service use, health status, employment, and income.
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.
A Profile of Social Security Child Beneficiaries and their Families: Sociodemographic and Economic Characteristics
This article presents the sociodemographic and economic characteristics of Social Security child beneficiaries. Using data from the Survey of Income and Program Participation matched with administrative benefit records, we find important differences in the incidence of child benefit receipt and average benefit amount across a number of individual and family-level characteristics. We also examine the demographic and income characteristics of the three beneficiary types: child of deceased worker, child of disabled worker, and child of retired worker.
During 1981–2004, long-run earnings inequality among men increased by about the same magnitude as the well-documented increase in annual earnings inequality. Although the growth in annual earnings inequality was greater for women during these years, there was very little increase in their long-run earnings inequality. This article explores the conditions that produce the divergent trends in long-run earnings.
This research note uses 2007 Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF) data to update work reported in an earlier article, “Retiring in Debt? Differences between the 1995 and 2004 Near-Retiree Cohorts.” The analysis documents whether there have been changes in the debt holdings of near-retirees in 2007, a point in time reflecting the start of the recent financial and economic crisis, relative to 2004. Results show that near-retirees' debt levels in 2007 were modestly higher than in 2004, overall and across a number of subgroups. The results do not capture the full impact of the financial crisis, which manifested at the end of 2007 and in 2008.
Low Levels of Retirement Resources in the Near-Elderly Time Period and Future Participation in Means-Tested Programs
This article describes the de facto standards of low income and resources reflected in the eligibility standards of the largest means-tested programs that serve the elderly and then applies these standards to a near-elderly cohort. Through juxtaposing retirement resources in the near-elderly time period with program participation in the elderly time period, the author indirectly examines some of the changes between the two time periods that could affect program eligibility, including spend-down of resources and marital dissolution. Retirement resource levels are estimated using the Survey of Income and Program Participation, and subsequent participation in one of the means-tested programs—Supplemental Security Income (SSI)—is examined using matched administrative records.
This article describes the outcomes of the redetermination of Supplemental Security Income (SSI) eligibility when a child recipient reaches age 18. Statistics on the characteristics of youth whose eligibility is redetermined are presented using 8 years of administrative data, and the relationship between these characteristics and both an initial cessation decision and a successful appeal or reapplication for SSI are discussed.
The Social Security Administration (SSA) receives reports of earnings for the U.S. working population each year from employers and the Internal Revenue Service. The earnings information received is stored at SSA as the Master Earnings File (MEF) and is used to administer Social Security programs and to conduct research on the populations served by those programs. This article documents the history, content, limitations, complexities, and uses of the MEF (and data files derived from the MEF). It is intended for researchers who use earnings data to study work patterns and their implications, and for those interested in understanding the data used to administer the current-law programs.
An Empirical Study of the Effects of Social Security Reforms on Benefit Claiming Behavior and Receipt Using Public-Use Administrative Microdata
In the past few years, the Social Security Old-Age and Survivors Insurance benefit system in the United States has undergone some of the most significant changes since its inception. Using the public-use microdata extract from the Master Beneficiary Record, we are able to uncover a number of interesting trends in benefit claiming behavior and level of benefit receipt, which can help us understand how the changes in the system are shaping the retirement benefit claiming behavior of older Americans.
As of 2009, Social Security's Old-Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance program limits the amount of annual earnings subject to taxation at $106,800, and this value generally increases annually based on changes in the national average wage index. This brief uses Modeling Income in the Near Term (MINT) projections to compare the distributional effects of four options for raising the maximum taxable earnings amount beyond its scheduled levels. Two of the options would raise this value so that it covers 90 percent of all covered earnings and two would remove the maximum completely. Within each set of options, the proposals are differentiated by whether the new taxable amounts are used in computing benefits. Most workers would not be affected by these proposals, but some higher earners would experience a substantial increase in taxes. Correspondingly, benefit increases are largely isolated to higher earners, although the return in benefits for taxes paid would also decline. Because the proposals are targeted toward high earners, Social Security's progressivity would increase.
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.
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.
As the first in a trio of articles devoted to incorporating immigration into policy models, this article traces the history of research on immigrant earnings. It focuses on how earnings trajectories of immigrants differ from those of U.S. natives, vary across immigrant groups, and have changed over time. The highlighted findings underscore key lessons for modeling immigrant earnings and pave the way for representing the earnings trajectories of immigrants in policy models.
Benefit Adequacy Among Elderly Social Security Retired-Worker Beneficiaries and the SSI Federal Benefit Rate
The federal benefit rate (FBR) of the Supplemental Security Income program provides an inflation-indexed income guarantee for aged and disabled people with low assets. Some consider the FBR as an attractive measure of Social Security benefit adequacy. Others propose the FBR as an administratively simple, well-targeted minimum Social Security benefit. However, these claims have not been empirically tested. Using microdata from the Survey of Income and Program Participation, this article finds that the FBR is an imprecise measure of benefit adequacy; it incorrectly identifies as economically vulnerable many who are not poor, and disregards some who are poor. The reason for this is that the FBR-level benefit threshold of adequacy considers the Social Security benefit in isolation and ignores the family consumption unit. The FBR would provide an administratively simple but poorly targeted foundation for a minimum Social Security benefit. The empirical estimates quantify the substantial tradeoffs between administrative simplicity and target effectiveness.
The Impact of Survey Choice on Measuring the Relative Importance of Social Security Benefits to the Elderly
This article provides insight into how measures of elderly economic well-being are sensitive to the survey data source. In Social Security Administration's publication Income of the Population 55 or Older, data are based on the national Current Population Survey (CPS). The preciseness of the survey statistics depends upon the willingness and ability of CPS respondents to answer questions accurately. This article contrasts income statistics calculated using the CPS and the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP). Administrative data for Social Security benefits and SSI are also used to evaluate the accuracy of the income estimates.
The Impact of the Unit of Observation on the Measurement of the Relative Importance of Social Security Benefits to the Elderly
Other publications using the same data source as Income of the Population 55 or Older, 2004 have produced different statistics for income and the relative importance of Social Security that appear contradictory. Depending on the unit of observation and whose income is considered, the estimates of the percentage of the elderly receiving all of their income from Social Security in 2004 varies from 13 percent to 22 percent. This article explains how the choice of the unit of observation impacts measures of the relative importance of Social Security benefits for the elderly.
Provided is a discussion of the cumulative effects of the measurement alternatives described in the three previous articles: considering family income of persons rather than aged units, using administrative data in place of survey reported data, and switching the data source from CPS to SIPP. The current-methodology CPS statistic of 17.9 percent of beneficiary aged units receiving all of their income from Social Security in 1996 falls to a substantially smaller estimated 4.5 percent of elderly beneficiary persons based on family income when using the SIPP and Social Security administrative data.
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.
Lifetime Earnings Patterns, the Distribution of Future Social Security Benefits, and the Impact of Pension Reform
Policymakers have long been interested in understanding the adequacy and distribution of Social Security benefits and in predicting the effects of reform on representative workers. This article describes two new methods for estimating the career profile of earnings for representative workers. It then compares the results of those new methods with earnings profiles assumed in traditional distributional analysis of Social Security and shows the implications of the new results for evaluating Social Security reform.
This article looks at the history of earnings in covered employment for the 300,000 disabled SSI beneficiaries who were working in December 1997. It provides background information on beneficiaries essential to SSA's efforts to help them return to work.
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.
Social Security solvency proposals may affect blacks as a group differently than those of other races because of differences in earnings, mortality, and rates of disability. To provide some background for understanding this issue, this note examines the earnings of workers by age and race, comparing those who recently died or became entitled to Social Security disability benefits with those still alive. It does not analyze any specific proposal for changing benefits.
This note uses data from the Modeling Income in the Near Term (MINT) project to estimate the distribution of zero-earnings years by gender, birth cohort, and level of lifetime earnings from 1951 to 1996. The analysis is focused mainly on zero-earnings years that fall within a worker's highest 35 years of earnings, because only these years are used in the calculation of benefits.
In this article, the author uses large, Social Security administrative data sets to examine changes in earnings distributions in the United States over the 1980s through the mid-1990s. Because the earnings information contained in these data sets comes directly from the W-2 forms filed by employers, self-reporting errors and top-coding problems, common in other data used for this type of analysis, are minimized. Previous research has documented an increase in overall earnings inequality during the 1970s and the 1980s. The author finds that this upward trend in overall earnings inequality continues into the mid-1990s, despite a period of nearly constant or slightly decreasing earnings inequality from 1988 through 1992. The data also suggest that between-group earnings inequality, whether dividing the sample into groups by age group or by birth cohort, is increasing. Despite the increase in between-group earnings inequality over the period examined, however, within-group earnings inequality remains by far the largest contributor to overall earnings inequality.
A major policy issue for the Social Security program is the treatment of earnings of persons who have attained retirement age. This article discusses the retirement test and recomputation of benefit provisions, and provides statistical data for 1995.
In 1995, about 806,000 persons aged 65–70 had significant earnings resulting in the withholding of benefits by the retirement test. About 1,659,000 persons aged 65 or older realized an increase in their benefit amount because of their earnings.
In this paper, the author uses large Social Security administrative data sets to examine changes in earnings distributions in the United States over the 1980s through the mid-1990s. Because the earnings information contained in these data sets comes directly from the W-2 forms filed by employers, the self-reporting errors and top-coding problems common in other data used for this type of analysis are minimized. Previous research has documented an increase in overall earnings inequality during the 1970s and the 1980s. The author finds that this upward trend in overall earnings inequality continues in the mid-1990s, despite a period of nearly constant or slightly decreased earnings inequality from 1988 through 1992. The data also suggest that between-group earnings inequality, whether dividing the sample into groups by age group or by birth cohort, is increasing. Despite the increase in between-group earnings inequality over the period examined, however, within-group earnings inequality remains by far the largest contributor to overall earnings inequality.
This paper asks whether information about immigrants other than their age, education, and years since migration can be productively used to project their earnings. Although many factors could affect immigrants' earnings, what is most useful for Social Security modeling purposes is relevant information that is readily available on a continuous basis. Country of origin is a good candidate as it is regularly and readily available from several administrative and survey data sources.
In this paper, microdata samples from the 1960–1990 censuses are used to examine the relationship between country of origin and the earnings of immigrants. By following cohorts of immigrants over 10-year intervals, we learn how country of origin affects the initial earnings of immigrants and how the relationship between country of origin and immigrants' earnings changes as immigrants live in the United States. The paper also presents theoretical insights and empirical evidence about the underlying causes of the link between country of origin and immigrants' earnings.
This article asks whether information about immigrants beyond their age, education, and years since migration can be productively used to project their earnings. Although many factors could affect immigrant earnings, what is most useful for Social Security modelling purposes is relevant information that is readily available on a continuous basis. Country of origin is a good candidate, as it is regularly and readily available from several administrative and survey data sources.
In this article, microdata samples from the 1960-90 censuses are used to examine the relationship between country of origin and the earnings of immigrants. By following cohorts of immigrants over 10-year intervals, we learn how country of origin affects the initial earnings of immigrants and how the relationship between country of origin and immigrant earnings changes as immigrants continue to live in the United States. The article also presents theoretical insights and empirical evidence about the underlying causes of the link between country of origin and immigrant earnings.
In this paper I use large, Social Security administrative data sets to examine changes in earnings distributions in the U.S. over the 1980s and early-1990s. Because the earnings information contained in these data sets comes directly from the W-2 forms filed by employers, the self-reporting errors and top-coding problems common in other data used for this type of analysis are minimized. Previous research has documented an increase in overall earnings inequality during the 1970s and the 1980s. While I too find that overall earnings inequality generally increased during the early- to mid-1980s, I find that this upward trend in earnings inequality might have slowed, or reversed, during the late-1980s and early 1990s. I also find that within-group inequality for various race and gender subgroups of the population generally increased over the period examined, confirming the results of others and extending those findings into the early 1900s. Finally, I find that women's earnings increased relative to men's earnings over the entire period and that the earnings of black males declined relative to the earnings of the other groups examined.
The economic status of the elderly and the economic status of children are analyzed using a comprehensive definition of income that takes selected types of noncash income and taxes into account. Estimates are presented for detailed age groups over the entire age range and for socioeconomic classifications within the elderly subgroup and within the subgroup of children. The paper finds that children and the elderly are less well off than the middle age groups. This result is obtained using median incomes and the percentage of the group that has low income, as defined here. When results obtained with the measures presented in this paper are compared with results obtained with more commonly used measures, there are important differences for both the elderly and for children. For both groups, the composition of the low-income population differs in important ways from the composition of the official poverty population.
Immigrant cohorts have varied over time in many ways that have important implications for projecting the contributions immigrants make to the Social Security system. Using immigrant cohorts in the 1970, 1980, and 1990 decennial censuses, we find that immigrant men experience faster earnings growth than native-born men and that there has been a large increase over time in immigrant earnings growth rates. Thus, recent reductions in immigrant entry earnings are significantly compensated for by faster immigrant earnings growth.
Immigrant cohorts have varied over time in many ways that have important implications for projecting the contributions immigrants make to the Social Security system. Using immigrant cohorts in the 1970, 1980, and 1990 decennial censuses, we find that immigrant men experience faster earnings growth than U.S.-born men; that there has been a large decline in initial immigrant earnings over time; and that there has been an accompanying large increase over time in immigrant earnings growth rates. Thus, recent reductions in immigrant entry earnings are significantly compensated for by faster immigrant earnings growth.
This paper examines the money incomes of the elderly and the nonelderly. The economic status of the elderly is put in perspective by discussing changes in real incomes since 1967 and the income of the elderly relative to the incomes of other age groups. Detailed age groups within both the elderly and nonelderly groups are examined. The paper finds that the economic status of the elderly in 1992 was substantially better than in 1967 but was about the same as in 1984. The real median income of the elderly rose from 1967 to 1989 but fell from 1989 to 1992. The ratio of the income of the elderly to that of the nonelderly was higher in 1992 than in 1967, but the 1992 ratio was below the 1984 ratio. Large increases in mean Social Security benefits were important in the increase in the total income of the elderly since 1967.
The absence of a correlation between age-adjusted death rates and the average income levels of economically developed countries has led researchers to conclude that income does not affect the mortality levels of economically developed countries. The mortality experiences of the former Soviet Union and some of the eastern European countries have further brought into question the importance of income's distribution in determining mortality among economically developed countries; prior to its breakup, the income distribution of the Soviet Union was as equal as that of Sweden, yet the life expectancy of the Soviets has been dramatically shorter than that of the Swedes. Using insights from a longitudinal microanalysis of U.S. mortality, this study presents evidence that, even for economically developed countries, the income distribution of a nation is an important determinant of its mortality. The results of this study also suggest that the relatively unequal income distribution of the United States is an important contributing factor to its low life expectancy relative to other high-income countries.
Between 1970 and 1983, the rate at which the elderly were hospitalized grew by over 40 percent, but the rate of hospitalization for the younger population was fairly stable. Past attempts to explain the different patterns among the young and the old have focused on technology, insurance, health status, and the supply of hospital services. These attempts have been largely unsuccessful. In this paper, I examine other possible explanations, namely, that the elderly, who experienced a decline in the rate of participation in the labor force and an increase in income over this period, used increases in available time (i.e., nonwork time) and increases in income to seek out and receive greater amounts of health care.
Using an empirical strategy that adequately controls for the health status and insurance status of the subjects under study, I analyze small area data from the state of North Carolina. This approach yields results that indicate labor force status and income are important determinants of hospital use among the elderly.
This paper examines the family income and the household wealth and income of old old persons. Subgroups of the old old are compared, and the old old are compared with the young old. When the old old group is separated into three subgroups—widows living alone, other females, and males—the economic status of widows living alone is substantially below that of the other two subgroups. This difference is found when income, wealth, and combined income-wealth measures are used. When the old old group is compared with the young old group, the economic status of the old old is substantially lower for all measures examined. When the three subgroups within both the old old and young old groups are compared, the economic status of each subgroup is lower for the old old for most measures. Income data from the March 1991 Current Population Survey and wealth and income data from the 1984 Survey of Income and Program Participation are used.
Income, Assets, and Health Insurance: Economic Resources for Meeting Acute Health Care Needs of the Aged
In recent years there has been great interest in the economic status of the aged, especially in connection with the debates about the appropriate level of Social Security benefits and Medicare coverage and financing. The economic status of the aged relative to other age groups has been of particular interest in these debates. This paper examines changes in the before-tax cash income of the aged and of other age groups from 1984 to 1989. Earlier research found that the real income of the aged rose substantially, both absolutely and relative to the income of the nonaged, from about 1970 to the mid-1980s. It is shown here that from 1984 to 1989 the real income of the aged rose slowly, and fell slightly relative to the income of the nonaged. The different rates of income growth for different aged groups are explored in this paper, with the emphasis on differences between the aged and nonaged. This paper also serves as an update of an earlier paper that contained estimates for the 1967–1984 period. The estimates in this paper generally are consistent with those presented in the earlier article.
Most analyses of economic status use only income as the measure of resources. It is clear, however, that wealth also plays an important role in economic well-being. The existence of both income and asset tests for eligibility purposes in several government transfer programs (e.g., Supplemental Security Income, Aid to Families with Dependent Children, food stamps) suggests the importance of both wealth and income. Units of the same age, income, and needs are not equally well off if they have different amounts of wealth. A fully satisfactory way of taking differences in wealth into account in a combined income-wealth measure is not available. Particularly controversial is the comparison of different age groups when such measures are used. This exploratory paper examines the use of income-wealth measures for the analysis of the distribution of economic well-being for age groups in the current period.
In recent years there has been a substantial amount of discussion about the economic status of the aged. There is a widely accepted view that the status of the aged has improved relative to the nonaged. This view has affected the debate on modifications to the Social Security system and other retirement plans. This paper discusses changes in the economic status of the aged during the past several years, in terms of the real income of the aged and in terms of the income of the aged relative to the income of the nonaged. The analysis uses detailed age groups within both the aged and nonaged groups. This detail is important because summary age groups are not homogeneous. Income change at different income levels within each age group is also examined. Income is adjusted for size of family unit and, in some cases, age of head.
Income of New Disabled-Worker Beneficiaries and Their Families: Findings From the New Beneficiary Survey
Income of New Retired Workers by Age at First Benefit Receipt: Findings From the New Beneficiary Survey
Income of New Retired Workers by Social Security Benefit Levels: Findings From the New Beneficiary Survey
Income Changes At and After Social Security Benefit Receipt: Evidence From the Retirement History Study
This paper examines the economic well-being of age groups in the U.S. using data on both income and wealth. Although income will be discussed, we will focus on wealth in order to exploit relatively current data on wealth that have become available recently.
It is well-known that for most purposes income size distribution data collected in household surveys are far from ideal. The problems with those data can be separated into two types: the data items that are collected, and the accuracy of the data collected. Usually, although there are important exceptions, the income data collected are confined to cash income before taxes, thus ignoring the effects of both taxes and noncash income of all types. Also, the income estimates usually are for one year, which often is not the best accounting period for analysis. Furthermore, there usually is a lack of adequate detail by income type, and the data ordinarily are not sufficiently detailed to adjust for changes in the composition of the family unit during the income accounting period.
An Example of the Use of Statistical Matching in the Estimation and Analysis of the Size Distribution of Income
This paper discusses the use of statistical matching in the estimation and analysis of the size distribution of family unit personal income. Statistical matching is a relatively new technique that has been used to combine, at the single observation level, data from two different samples, each of which contains some data items that are absent from the other file. In a statistical match, the information brought together from the different files ordinarily is not for the same person but for similar persons; the match is made on the basis of similar characteristics. In contrast, in an "exact" match, information for the same person from two or more files is brought together using personal identifying information.