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Half of the workers who have an employer retirement plan haven’t saved enough to ensure they can retire comfortably.

This 17-minute video might be just the ticket for them.

The Retirement Gap | Kevin Bracker | TEDxPittsburgStateUniversity - YouTube

Kevin Bracker, a finance professor at Pittsburg State University in Kansas, presents a solid retirement strategy to workers with limited resources who need to get smart about saving and investing.

While not exactly a lively speaker, Bracker explains the most important concepts clearly – why starting to save early is important, why index funds are often better than actively managed investments, the difference between Roth and traditional IRAs, etc.

Some of his figures are somewhat different than the data generated by the Center for Retirement Research, which sponsors this blog. But both agree on this: the retirement outlook is worrisome.

The Center estimates that the typical baby boomer household who has an employer 401(k) and is approaching retirement age has only $135,000 in its 401(k)s and IRAs combined. That translates to about $600 a month in retirement.

Future generations who follow Bracker’s basic rules should be better off when they get old.

Squared Away writer Kim Blanton invites you to follow us on Twitter @SquaredAwayBC. To stay current on our blog, please join our free email list. You’ll receive just one email each week – with links to the two new posts for that week – when you sign up here. This blog is supported by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.

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When a Social Security statement comes in the mail, most people do not, as one might suspect, throw it on the pile of envelopes. They actually open it up and read it.

But are they absorbing the statements’ detailed estimates of how much money they’ll get from Social Security? RAND researcher Philip Armour tested this and found that the statement does, in fact, prompt people to stop and think about retirement: workers said their behavior and perceptions of the program changed after seeing the statement of their benefits.

The study was made possible after Social Security introduced a new system for mailing out statements. Workers used to get them in the mail every year. In 2011, the government took a hiatus and stopped sending them out. The mailings resumed in 2014 – but now they go out only before every fifth birthday (ages 25, 30, 35 etc.).

Armour was able to use the infrequent mailings to compare the reactions of the workers who had received a statement with those who had not during a four-year period, 2013-2017.

The statements bolstered their confidence that they could count on Social Security when they retire. More important, receiving them in the mail spurred some people to work more. To be clear, this is what they said – it isn’t known what they actually did.

Those who had been out of the labor market were much more likely, after getting a statement, to say they had returned to work. Working people under age 50 increased their hours of work.

Social Security benefits, on their own, usually are not enough to live on in retirement, and half of U.S. working-age households are at risk of falling short in retirement. But unfortunately, the study wasn’t able to detect another critical aspect of their retirement preparation: saving.

Armour doesn’t speculate about why some people decided to work more. But perhaps seeing a concrete estimate of their benefits made them realize they needed to earn more now to help themselves later.

To read Armour’s entire study, see “The Reintroduction of the Social Security Statement and its Effects on Social Security Expectations, Retirement Savings, and Labor Supply across the Age Distribution.”

The research reported herein was performed pursuant to a grant from the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) funded as part of the Retirement Research Consortium. The opinions and conclusions expressed are solely those of the author(s) and do not represent the opinions or policy of SSA or any agency of the federal government. Neither the United States Government nor any agency thereof, nor any of their employees, makes any warranty, express or implied, or assumes any legal liability or responsibility for the accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of the contents of this report. Reference herein to any specific commercial product, process or service by trade name, trademark, manufacturer, or otherwise does not necessarily constitute or imply endorsement, recommendation or favoring by the United States Government or any agency thereof.

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There’s an informal rule in journalism: put too many numbers in an article, and readers will drop like flies. A similar phenomenon might also be at work when someone looks at a Social Security statement filled with numbers.

The statement, which is intended to help workers plan for retirement, shows the size of the monthly benefit check increasing incrementally as the claiming age increases. Yet many people still choose to claim their benefits soon after becoming eligible at 62, which means smaller Social Security checks, possibly for decades.

In a recent experiment, a friendlier approach proved effective in helping people process this information: tell a story.  Researchers at the Center for Economic and Social Research at the University of Southern California created a fictional 3-minute video of a 62-year-old man talking with a financial adviser about retirement. The researchers showed it to workers between 50 and 60 years old.

Here’s one exchange in the video:

Adviser: [Social Security has] a tradeoff: you can decide to claim earlier. In that case, you would have a lower monthly benefit, but you’d get to enjoy these benefits for a longer period.

Worker: So if I claim sooner, I get less money per month?

Adviser: That’s right.

Later in the conversation, this concept starts sinking in. Instead of asking a question, the worker states a fact: [T]he monthly payments will be lower.

This non-numerical approach clearly had an impact. After seeing the video or reading the vignette on paper, the subjects accurately answered more than 90 percent of the true-false questions about Social Security’s mechanics, compared with just 78 percent accuracy by the people who didn’t see a vignette.

The results of this experiment, the study concluded, could help inform the Social Security Administration on how to “communicate these complex concepts to the public.”

To read the entire study, authored by Anya Samek, Arie Kapteyn, and Andrew Gray, see “Using Consequence Messaging to Improve Understanding of Social Security.”

The research reported herein was performed pursuant to a grant from the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) funded as part of the Retirement Research Consortium. The opinions and conclusions expressed are solely those of the author(s) and do not represent the opinions or policy of SSA or any agency of the federal government. Neither the United States Government nor any agency thereof, nor any of their employees, makes any warranty, express or implied, or assumes any legal liability or responsibility for the accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of the contents of this report. Reference herein to any specific commercial product, process or service by trade name, trademark, manufacturer, or otherwise does not necessarily constitute or imply endorsement, recommendation or favoring by the United States Government or any agency thereof.

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Today, half of U.S. workers say they want to work past age 65 – in the 1990s, only 16 percent did.

Apparently, people are getting the message that, if they want to be comfortable in retirement, they will need to work as long as possible.  However, good intentions don’t pan out for more a third of workers closing in on retirement age. And the older the age they had planned to retire, the more they fall short of the goal.

Researchers at the Center for Retirement Research, which sponsors this blog, wanted to uncover why people do not follow through. Their study was based on a survey that asked people in their late 50s when they planned to retire and then watched them over the next several years to see what they did and why.

Two factors – the researchers call them shocks – play important roles in pushing people to retire early. The big factor is health. One health-related reason is intuitive: when older people develop a new condition, they become more likely to retire earlier than they’d planned. A second reason is that, when setting a date, they over-estimate how long they’ll be able to work if they have already developed health conditions like arthritis, heart disease, or emphysema.

In this study, a shock is important if it clearly pushes older people to retire, and it affects a lot of them. Several shocks failed one of the two criteria. For example, even though the death of a spouse can prompt retirement, relatively few people experienced this, mitigating its impact.

Early retirement can also happen by default, which occurs when someone loses a job and is unable to find a new one. But another type of employment change has the opposite effect: older people are more likely to keep working if they lose one job but find another.

This study provides only a partial explanation for why so many people decide to retire prematurely. A compelling motivation the researchers didn’t consider is the desire for more leisure time.

The research reported herein was performed pursuant to a grant from the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) funded as part of the Retirement Research Consortium. The opinions and conclusions expressed are solely those of the author(s) and do not represent the opinions or policy of SSA or any agency of the federal government. Neither the United States Government nor any agency thereof, nor any of their employees, makes any warranty, express or implied, or assumes any legal liability or responsibility for the accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of the contents of this report. Reference herein to any specific commercial product, process or service by trade name, trademark, manufacturer, or otherwise does not necessarily constitute or imply endorsement, recommendation or favoring by the United States Government or any agency thereof.

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One in four workers in their mid-50s will eventually encounter difficulties on the job, because their bodies start breaking down or they aren’t as sharp as they used to be.

When a new, disabling condition is long-lasting, 63-year-olds – still a young age to be retiring – are two times more likely to stop working than other people their age, according to a new study by Mathematica, a Princeton, N.J., research firm.

The researchers started out with a fairly healthy group of 55-year-olds and followed their career paths through age 67. Strikingly, even people as young as 59 who have experienced a new work-limiting health condition leave the labor force at a much higher rate than those who did not. It’s inevitable that many, though not all, of the oldest workers in this group decide to retire, rather than find a new job.

Of course, the nature of the work factors into whether someone decides they have to retire. When older workers have physically demanding jobs, they are more likely to report a new disabling condition, the study found. It can be extremely difficult to soldier on in occupations such as construction or heavy industry.

With less physical jobs, however, it is more feasible to work longer even with a disability. For example, a lawyer or administrative assistant could conceivably keep working, even if it became difficult to walk.

In addition to the physical challenges, disability couldn’t come at a worse time financially for baby boomers, a significant minority of whom are not well-prepared for retirement.

They would benefit from staying in the labor force as long as possible to save more and hold out for a larger Social Security check every month.

The research reported herein was performed pursuant to a grant from the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) funded as part of the Disability Research Consortium. The opinions and conclusions expressed are solely those of the author(s) and do not represent the opinions or policy of SSA or any agency of the federal government. Neither the United States Government nor any agency thereof, nor any of their employees, makes any warranty, express or implied, or assumes any legal liability or responsibility for the accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of the contents of this report. Reference herein to any specific commercial product, process or service by trade name, trademark, manufacturer, or otherwise does not necessarily constitute or imply endorsement, recommendation or favoring by the United States Government or any agency thereof.

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Motherhood, career anxiety, menopause – women, throughout their lives, move from one psychological stressor to the next.

Well, ladies, there’s hope: your stress should start to ease around age 60.

With the #MeToo movement against workplace abuse of young adult women dominating the headlines, there’s a quieter movement of baby boomer women exploring what it means to get old. Book publishers are flocking to writers of self-actualization books like “Women Rowing North: Navigating Life’s Currents and Flourishing as We Age” and “50 After 50: Reframing the Next Chapter of Your Life.”

Perhaps publishers sense a market for these books because women of all ages suffer depression at rates two to four times higher than men. But a study in the journal Maturitas finds that many women shed their depression as they move from their mid-40s into their 60s.

To pinpoint individuals’ psychological changes over time, this study analyzed the group of women who participated in a telephone survey from beginning to end, 1992 to 2012.

The women, who live Melbourne, Australia, were asked a battery of questions to determine whether they were depressed – questions about whether they felt optimistic or discontented, socially engaged or lonely, impatient or cheerful, clear thinking or confused.

They were also asked whether they suffered from bad moods, which can be a precursor to depression. The researchers found that the women’s moods improved significantly as they aged.

The drop in negative moods ushered in a drop in the prevalence of depression: 23 percent of the 60-year-olds in the study were depressed but only 15 percent of the 70-year-olds.

Remember the slogan, “You’re not getting older, you’re getting better,” from the cheesy 1971 commercial for Clairol Living Color hair dye? If you didn’t believe the slogan then, maybe you’ll believe it now.

Squared Away writer Kim Blanton invites you to follow us on Twitter @SquaredAwayBC. To stay current on our blog, please join our free email list. You’ll receive just one email each week – with links to the two new posts for that week – when you sign up here.  This blog is supported by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.

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One way baby boomers adjust to longer lifespans and inadequate retirement savings is to continue working. There’s just one problem: it can be more difficult for some people in their 50s and 60s to get or hold on to a job.

But things are improving. The job market is on a tear – 300,000 people were hired in January alone – and baby boomers are jumping back in. A single statistic illustrates this: a bump up in their labor force participation that resumes a long-term trend of rising participation since the 1980s.

In January, 65.1 percent of Americans between ages 55 and 64 were in the labor force, up smartly from 63.9 percent in 2015. This has put a halt to a downturn that began after the 2008-2009 recession, which pushed many boomers out of the labor force. The labor force is made up of people who are employed or looking for work.

The recent gains don’t seem transitory either. According to a 2024 projection by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the older labor force will continue to grow.  The biggest change will be among the oldest populations: a 4.5 percent increase in the number of 65- to 74-year olds in the labor force, and a 6.4 percent increase over age 75.

The obvious reason for the growth is the tsunami of aging boomers – the senior members turn 73 this year. An expanding older population pushes up the number of older workers too. “The second reason,” the bureau concluded, “is an increasing labor force participation rate among older workers.”

Lately I’ve been hearing anecdotes that seem to back this up. One friend, a 65-year-old Texan, had been retired a year – until a golf buddy persuaded him to come to work for him. A Boston attorney I know is enjoying a slow-motion retirement from his firm – the partners keep finding things for him to do.

Millions of decisions like these have increased the average retirement age significantly in recent decades. There is abundant research to explain this trend. Some boomers continue working so they can repair their finances before they retire. Longer careers are also more feasible for boomers, who are healthier and more educated than their parents and grandparents.

Another statistic also points toward prolonged careers. Today, there are far more people over 65 working full-time than part-time. In the 1990s, part-time jobs dominated.

Such dramatic changes in the nature and timing of retirement “would [not] have been envisioned a generation ago for the Golden Years,” concluded Adviser Perspectives, an online publication for financial professionals.

Squared Away writer Kim Blanton invites you to follow us on Twitter @SquaredAwayBC. To stay current on our blog, please join our free email list. You’ll receive just one email each week – with links to the two new posts for that week – when you sign up here. This blog is supported by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.

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We’re kicking off 2019 with our periodic review of the most-read articles over the past year, based on the blog traffic tracked by Google Analytics.

Judging by the comments readers leave at the end of the blog posts, baby boomers are really diving into the nitty-gritty of preparing themselves mentally and financially for retirement. Financial advisers also frequently comment on Squared Away, and we hope some of our web traffic is because they’re sharing our blog with their clients.

Last year, Squared Away received recognition from other media. The Wall Street Journal recommended us to its readers for the blog’s “wonderful mix of topics.” The Los Angeles Times picked up our article, “Why Retirement Inequality is Rising.” MarketWatch published our posts about how pharmacists can help seniors reduce their prescription drug prices and about a Social Security reform to reduce elderly poverty.

The most popular blogs in 2018 fall into five categories:

The Big Picture

How Social Security Gets Fixed Matters

Future ‘Retirees’ Plan to Work

Just Half of Americans Enjoy Bull Market

Personality Influences Path to Retirement

How and When to Retire

Know About the 401(k) Surprise

How Retirees Can Negotiate Drug Prices

Work vs Save Options Quantified

What’s a Geriatric Care Manager Anyway?

Geriatric Help Eases Family Discord

Retirement Pitfalls

Retirees Get a 401(k) Withdrawal Headache

Social Security Mistakes Can Be Costly

Fun

The Ultimate in Travel: Retiring Abroad

The Marshmallow Test for Retirement

New Yorker Cartoon Considers 401k

Housing

Granny Pods: a Financial and Care Solution

Tiny Houses Fix Millennials’ Money Woes

Squared Away writer Kim Blanton invites you to follow us on Twitter @SquaredAwayBC. To stay current on our blog, please join our free email list. You’ll receive just one email each week – with links to the two new posts for that week – when you sign up here.  This blog is supported by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.

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With more Americans today living into their 80s and beyond, the elderly are becoming more vulnerable to slipping into poverty.

To reduce the poverty risk facing the oldest retirees, some policy experts have proposed increasing Social Security benefits for everyone at age 85. Under one common proposal analyzed by the Center for Retirement Research in a new report, the current benefit at this age would increase by
5 percent.

The poverty rate for people over 85 is 12 percent, compared with 8 percent for new retirees. But more elderly people may actually be living on the edge, because the income levels that define poverty for them are so low: less than $11,757 for a single person and less than $14,817 for couples.

One reason the oldest retirees are especially vulnerable is that their medical expenses are rising as their health is deteriorating, yet they’re too old to defray the expense by working. This is occurring at the same time that the value of their employer pensions – if they have one – has been severely eroded by inflation after many years of retirement.

Further, elderly women are more likely to be poor than men, because wives usually outlive their husbands, which triggers a big drop in income that is generally not fully offset by a drop in their expenses.

Limiting the 5 percent benefit increase to the oldest retirees would ease poverty while containing the cost. One way to pay for this would be to slightly reduce Social Security’s annual cost-of-living adjustment, or COLA. Cutting the COLA from, say, 2.00 percent to 1.94 percent would redirect resources away from the years when a retiree is younger and generally better off to the later years when her risk of becoming poor increases.

A variation of this proposal would increase benefits for all 85-year-olds by the same dollar amount – rather than a percentage. Both options would cost about the same, but the dollar increase would have the advantage of giving a larger boost in benefits to the lowest-income elderly people.

The researchers conclude that a flat-dollar increase “is the best way to target those most at risk” – and this could be done at relatively little cost to the Social Security program.

Squared Away writer Kim Blanton invites you to follow us on Twitter @SquaredAwayBC. To stay current on our blog, please join our free email list. You’ll receive just one email each week – with links to the two new posts for that week – when you sign up here. This blog is supported by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.

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It is one of “the most significant labor market trends” in the United States, says Wellesley College researcher Courtney Coile.

She’s referring to big increases since the 1980s and 1990s in the share of older Americans in the labor force, including one in three men in their late 60s.

As for women, the baby boomers were really the first generation to thoroughly embrace full-time employment. Older women’s participation in the labor force hasn’t quite caught up with their male coworkers, but they’ve made impressive strides since the 1980s and have rapidly closed the retirement-age gap.

Given the implications of this trend for retirement security – the longer people work, the better off they’ll be – Coile and many other researchers have investigated what’s driving it. They agree on several things that are changing the retirement calculation.

College. College graduation rates have increased dramatically over the past few decades, and people who’ve spent at least some time in college tend to remain in their jobs longer. This trend has played a big role in the increase in baby boomers’ participation in the labor force, Coile said.

Social Security. Three major reforms to the program have boosted U.S. retirement ages. A 1983 reform is slowly increasing the age at which workers are eligible to receive their full benefits, from 65 for past generations to 67 for workers who were born after 1959. This amounts to a significant benefit cut at any given age that a retiree claims his benefits. Various studies show that this has created an incentive to delay signing up for Social Security in order to increase the size of the monthly benefit checks.

The 1983 legislation also played a role in pulling up the average retirement age by providing larger monthly benefit increases for people who delay Social Security beyond their full retirement age. In 2000, a third reform ended the temporary withholding of some benefits that had been in place for people in their late 60s who worked while simultaneously collecting Social Security.

Employer retirement plans. Two employer benefits that encourage people to retire at relatively young ages have largely gone by the wayside in the private sector. First, the pervasiveness of employer health insurance for retired workers, by reducing their medical costs, used to make it easier for people to afford retirement before Medicare kicks in. And traditional pensions often gave workers a strong incentive to retire by their early to mid-60s, if they reached the target age and years of service required to maximize their pension credits.

Pensions have largely been replaced by 401(k)-style retirement savings plans, which have the opposite effect. Studies show that people with 401(k)s retire about one and a half years later than similarly situated people with pensions. The reason: older workers don’t always have a clear idea about when they should retire, but they do know they can keep improving their future finances by saving more and reducing the length of time they’ll have to fund their retirement.

Wives’ influence. More women than ever are working, and couples often coordinate their retirement dates. Since husbands are three years older, on average, it is common for them to delay their own retirement until their wives retire.

Health and longevity. In recent decades, Americans have generally been getting healthier and living longer, and older people may consider this and set a later retirement date. Our parents’ longevity is another influence on our expectations of long we’ll live. One study found that if someone’s parent dies unexpectedly, the worker is more likely to retire earlier than he’d planned.

Economic changes. The shift away from manufacturing to a service-oriented economy means that more jobs aren’t as physically taxing, which makes it easier to work longer.

The research clearly shows that the average retirement age for baby boomers has increased as they have continually adapted to the multitude of changes that have occurred over their lifetimes.

The more difficult question for researchers to answer is when the forces that pushed up the retirement age will finally play themselves out.

Squared Away writer Kim Blanton invites you to follow us on Twitter @SquaredAwayBC. To stay current on our blog, please join our free email list. You’ll receive just one email each week – with links to the two new posts for that week – when you sign up here.

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