Selected Research & Analysis: Work and Employment > Near Retirement
The Benefit Receipt Patterns and Labor Market Experiences of Older Workers Who Were Denied Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits on the Basis of Work Capacity
In this article, the authors use linked survey and administrative data to identify Social Security Disability Insurance applicants who received a denial at steps 4 and 5 of the Social Security Administration's sequential evaluation process for disability determination. The authors document the denied applicants' demographic characteristics and the characteristics of the occupations they held before application and track their postdenial benefit receipt, employment, and earnings patterns.
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.
Eligible workers can claim Social Security retirement benefits at age 62, the earliest eligibility age; however, those who claim benefits before attaining full retirement age receive permanently reduced benefits. Working longer and claiming benefits later can result in higher Social Security benefits and greater financial security in retirement. This article presents data on trends in the labor force participation rate of older Americans and the age at which people claim Social Security retired-worker benefits.
Using Health and Retirement Study data, the authors examine three groups of adults aged 51–56 in 1992 with different disability experiences over the following 8 years. Our analysis reveals three major findings. First, people who started and stayed nondisabled experienced stable financial security, with substantial improvement in household wealth despite substantial labor force withdrawal. Second, people who started as nondisabled but suffered a disability shock experienced a substantial increase in poverty rates and a sharp decline in median incomes. Average earnings loss was the greatest for that group, with public and private benefits replacing less than half of the loss, whereas the reduction in private health insurance coverage was more than alleviated by the increase in public health insurance coverage. Third, people who started and stayed disabled were behind at the baseline and have fallen further behind on most measures. An important exception is substantial improvement in health insurance coverage because of public safety nets.
How Did the Recession of 2007–2009 Affect the Wealth and Retirement of the Near Retirement Age Population in the Health and Retirement Study?
This article uses household wealth and labor market data from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS) to investigate how the recent "Great Recession" has affected the wealth and retirement of the Early Boomer cohort, those in the population who were just approaching retirement age at the beginning of the recession. The retirement wealth of people aged 53–58 before the onset of the recession in 2006 declined by a relatively modest 2.8 percent by 2010. For members of older cohorts, wealth had increased by about 5 percent over a comparable age span. The wealth holdings of poorer households were least affected by the recession. Relative losses were greatest for those who initially had the highest wealth when the recession began. The retirement behavior of the Early Boomer cohort looks similar, at least to date, to the behavior observed for members of older cohorts at comparable ages.
The majority of research dealing with the retirement decision has focused on the health and wealth aspects of retirement. Research in the areas of judgment and decision making and behavioral economics suggests that there may be a number of behavioral factors that influence the retirement decision as well. This review highlights such factors and offers a unique perspective on potential determinants of retirement behavior, including anchoring and framing effects, affective forecasting, hyperbolic discounting, and the planning fallacy. The author describes findings from previous research, as well as draws novel connections between existing decision-making research and the retirement decision.
Examining Social Security Benefits as a Retirement Resource for Near-Retirees, by Race and Ethnicity, Nativity, and Disability Status
This article examines the distribution of Social Security benefits among recent cohorts of near-retirees, by (1) race and ethnicity, (2) nativity, and (3) disability status. Actual earnings history data help produce more accurate measures of benefits. The authors find that substantial differences in earnings levels and/or mortality levels among these subgroups interact with Social Security program provisions to produce sizable differences in values of benefit measures, such as Social Security wealth and earnings replacement rates.
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.
Using a 1 percent sample of Social Security Administration data, this article documents and analyzes responses in the entitlement age for old-age benefits following the recent changes in Social Security rules. Both rules, the removal of the retirement earnings test (RET) for persons who are at the full retirement age (FRA) through age 69 in 2000 or later and a gradual increase in the FRA for those who reach age 62 in 2000 or later, are expected to affect the age at which people claim Social Security retirement benefits (or entitlement age) and the work behavior of older Americans.
New Evidence on Earnings and Benefit Claims Following Changes in the Retirement Earnings Test in 2000
In April 2000, Congress enacted the Senior Citizens Freedom to Work Act of 2000, which removed the retirement earnings test for individuals at the full retirement age and older. This paper examines the labor force activity of workers aged 65–69 relative to older and younger workers in response to the removal of the earnings test. We use the 1 percent sample of Social Security administrative data that covers the period from 4 years before to 4 years following the removal of the test. Quantile regression methods allow us to identify the earnings levels of workers who change their work effort.
This paper reviews the economic literature on the work and retirement decisions of older women. Economic studies generally find that married women respond to the financial reward for work (for example, wages) in making their work and retirement decisions, but that they do not respond to unearned income and wealth (for example, the value of lifetime Social Security benefits). Unmarried women are found to respond to all type of financial variables. Most economic studies find that the family plays only a limited role in the work and retirement decisions of women. The retirement status of the husband does influence the wife's retirement decision, but the health status of the husband does not. The presence of dependents in the household, regardless of whether they are children or parents, is not found to influence work and retirement among women. The relevance of these results to Social Security policy is discussed.
There are a number of reasons to be cautious about the results. The literature to date is small; it is based on data that are deficient in some respects, and it contains studies that have methodological problems. These problems are discussed and prospects for future research are explored.
Many observers have noted that the long-term decline in labor force participation by older Americans may reflect the evolution of social institutions that effectively discourage work. Often-cited factors include employer discrimination against older workers, private pension plans that penalize continued employment, and the Social Security system. Various policies, such as eliminating Social Security's retirement test, have been proposed with a view to eliminating or lessening employment barriers.
This paper summarizes the economic evidence that addresses the role played by the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI) programs in retirement decisions. OASI is shown to have statistically significant effects on both the timing of retirement and the amount of post-retirement work; however, the influence is not large relative to the many other factors that determine the labor-supply decisions of older workers. Consequently, changes in Social Security policy of the type and magnitude that are politically feasible are unlikely to result in large changes in retirement behavior.
Despite extensive study of the work and retirement decisions of older individuals, the nature of employers' demand for older workers remains relatively unexplored. This paper investigates the plausibility, pervasiveness, and causes of limited employment opportunities for older workers by examining age discrimination, long-term employment relationships, and partial-retirement work options. The central theme is that much of the differential treatment of older workers that persists over time is likely to be part of a privately efficient, economic equilibrium. Provisional implications for Social Security and age-work policy choices are drawn.