Selected Research & Analysis: Policy Analysis > Old-Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI)
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Long-term increases in life expectancy have varied for individuals with different lifetime earnings levels. This article examines two hypothetical adjustments to Social Security Old-Age and Survivors Insurance benefits that would offset the differential changes in projected life expectancy. The authors use the Modeling Income in the Near Term microsimulation model to analyze how the adjustments would affect benefits for beneficiaries across the lifetime earnings distribution.
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.
For this working paper, the author uses a merged internal research file of administrative data from the Social Security Administration to examine working and retired-worker benefit claiming behavior at and around Social Security's early eligibility age of 62, by sex. The author defines various combinations of working and benefit-claiming behavior at or near age 62, for which she presents statistics indicating trends in behavior patterns for men and women born in the years from 1937 through 1944. This paper is an introductory companion to the forthcoming ORES Working Paper No. 115, which focuses on men's working and claiming behavior and disaggregates the results by lifetime earnings decile.
Pensions for State and Local Government Workers Not Covered by Social Security: Do Benefits Meet Federal Standards?
Federal law allows certain state and local governments to exclude employees from Social Security coverage if the employees are provided with a sufficiently generous pension. Approximately 6.5 million such workers were not covered by Social Security in 2018. Retirement systems for noncovered workers have become less generous in recent years, and a few plans could exhaust their trust funds within the next decade, putting beneficiaries at risk. This article examines data from a variety of sources to assess whether state and local governments currently satisfy the federal standards for retirement plan sufficiency and whether the standards ensure benefits equivalent to those from Social Security.
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 Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) reduces the Social Security benefits of individuals who would otherwise receive a full benefit based on earnings in Social Security–covered employment as well as pension income from noncovered employment. Since the WEP was established in 1983, critics have asserted that it overcorrects the would-be windfall for affected beneficiaries and is difficult to administer. This article considers two WEP replacement options that would modify the benefit calculation methodology. It compares the current WEP with the two options and discusses some of the possible effects of changing the current law.
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.
A Multidisciplinary Review of Research on the Distributional Effects of Raising Social Security's Early Entitlement Age
When estimating potential adversity caused by an increase in the early entitlement age (EEA), findings from both the EEA literature and the broader public health literature do not suggest that the Social Security–covered worker population can be easily separated into two groups—an unaffected or low-risk group and an easily identifiable vulnerable or high-risk group. This evidence appears largely supportive of the conclusions reached by the retired-worker benefit's original designers and may suggest implementation difficulties for proposals that seek to raise the EEA, while protecting groups deemed by the proposers to be adversely affected by that increase. Because the risks insured against by the retired-worker benefit are not limited to an easily identifiable segment of the population, the universality of Old-Age Insurance under current law may better match the underlying exposure to risk in the insured population than a targeted or needs-based alternative.
Social Security's family maximum rules limit the total benefits payable to a beneficiary's family. Different family maximum rules apply to retirement and survivor benefits than to disability benefits. The rules for calculating family maximum benefits are complicated. In some particularly complex cases, it is difficult to properly implement the family maximum, which can result in over- or underpayments. This article explains how the family maximum rules work and describes their evolution. The authors use Modeling Income in the Near Term, Version 6 data to analyze who is affected by the family maximum and to what extent their benefits are changed.
This article examines the Social Security trust fund reserves and cash flows and their interrelationships with the Treasury's cash management operations and the budget of the rest of the federal government. The article considers the extent to which the trust fund reserves and interest income reflect cash transactions between the trust funds and the public and are not, as some commenters have asserted, just accounting fictions. It also considers whether, under the Social Security system's self-financing framework, an improvement in trust fund finances can help relieve the accumulated debt commitments of the rest of the federal government.
Incentivizing Delayed Claiming of Social Security Retirement Benefits Before Reaching the Full Retirement Age
Claiming Social Security retirement benefits before the full retirement age (FRA) results in permanently lower benefits, while delaying claiming permanently increases benefits. This article uses Modeling Income in the Near Term data to determine the socioeconomic characteristics of individuals who claim at various ages. The authors then describe a number of novel approaches aimed at encouraging individuals to delay claiming in the months and years before reaching their FRA. Lastly, the authors model one of those approaches to examine how a 1-year delay in claiming affects benefits and poverty in the future.
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 Social Security Windfall Elimination and Government Pension Offset Provisions for Public Employees in the Health and Retirement Study
This article examines the Social Security Windfall Elimination Provision and Government Pension Offset. These provisions reduce the Social Security benefits of workers (and the resulting benefits of their spouses) if the prime beneficiary worked in “noncovered” employment (in which Social Security payroll taxes were not paid) and the noncovered job provided a pension, or if the spouse or survivor earned a pension from noncovered work. Using Health and Retirement Study data uniquely suited to the analysis, the authors calculate the household-level average lifetime benefit reductions resulting from these provisions and examine them in the context of lifetime Social Security income, pension income, and total wealth. The analysis also isolates the effects of pensions from noncovered employment on benefit adjustments and wealth.
African Americans: Description of Social Security and Supplemental Security Income Participation and Benefit Levels Using the American Community Survey
The authors use American Community Survey (ACS) data to compare Social Security and Supplemental Security Income program participation and benefit levels of African Americans with those of the general population. The ACS data show that African Americans are more likely to be Supplemental Security Income recipients, and less likely to be Social Security beneficiaries. Higher rates of poverty, disability, and mortality among African Americans mean that they are also more likely to rely on Social Security survivor and disability benefits than are other beneficiaries.
In conjunction with larger Social Security solvency plans, many policymakers have proposed introducing benefit increases for older beneficiaries. This brief analyzes the projected effects of two such policy options on beneficiaries aged 85 or older in 2030 using the Modeling Income in the Near Term model. Both options target older beneficiaries' primary insurance amounts for a 5 percent increase, but they differ in how the increase would be calculated. Both proposals would increase monthly benefits for nearly all older beneficiaries, and both would reduce poverty levels among the aged, relative to currently scheduled benefits. However, the options differ in how the benefit increases would be distributed among older beneficiaries across shared lifetime earnings quintiles.
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 retirement earnings test (RET) is an often-misunderstood aspect of the Social Security program. Policymakers have proposed reforming the RET as a way to encourage working at older ages. However, this could also cause earlier benefit claiming. We use Modeling Income in the Near Term data to analyze the complete repeal of the earnings test for beneficiaries aged 60 or older, first assuming no behavioral responses to repeal and secondly assuming changes to benefit claiming and workforce participation behaviors. Our lifetime results show that the assumed behavioral response—particularly the benefit claiming change—has a bigger effect than the RET policy change itself.
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.
Mind the Gap: The Distributional Effects of Raising the Early Eligibility Age and Full Retirement Age
Policymakers have proposed increases to the early eligibility age (EEA) and/or full retirement age (FRA) to address increasing life expectancy and Social Security solvency issues. This analysis uses the Social Security Administration's Modeling Income in the Near Term (MINT) model to compare three retirement-age increases suggested by the Social Security Advisory Board: (1) increase the FRA alone, (2) increase both the EEA and FRA to maintain a 4-year gap between them, and (3) increase both the EEA and FRA to maintain a 5-year gap between them. This distributional analysis shows the impact these varying reforms would have on Social Security beneficiaries in the future.
The Implications of Marital History Change on Women's Eligibility for Social Security Wife and Widow Benefits, 1990–2009
Social Security retirement-age benefits in the United States reflect marital histories and lifetime earnings of current and former married couples. We examine women's marital history patterns and spouse and widow benefit eligibility over the past two decades, 1990 and 2009. Our analysis reveals substantial changes in women's marital patterns among the baby boom and generation X cohorts. We find a substantial decline in qualifying marital histories for Social Security spouse and widow benefits. The results reveal considerable variation by race and Hispanic origin.
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.
The Growth in Social Security Benefits Among the Retirement-Age Population from Increases in the Cap on Covered Earnings
This article investigates how raising the maximum level of earnings subject to the Social Security payroll tax leads to the "leakage" of portions of the additional revenue into higher benefit payments. Using data from the Health and Retirement Study, the authors simulate the effects of changes in maximum taxable earnings for cohorts approaching retirement age over a 24-year period. They find, roughly, that almost half of the additional tax revenue from having raised the maximum earnings subject to the payroll tax has leaked into higher benefits.
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.
This policy brief compares two options set forth by the Social Security Advisory Board to increase the full retirement age (FRA), the age at which claimants may receive unreduced Social Security old-age benefits. One option would raise the FRA from the current target of 67 years to 68 years; the other would raise the FRA to 70 years. The brief examines the effects of both options on the level of benefits of Social Security beneficiaries aged 62 or older in 2070 using Modeling Income in the Near Term (MINT) projections, and on Trust Fund solvency using estimates from the Social Security Administration's Office of the Chief Actuary. The brief finds that both options would reduce benefits, improve solvency, and slightly increase the poverty rate. Within each option, effects on benefits are relatively uniform across beneficiary characteristics, although some surviving spouse and disabled beneficiaries would be shielded from benefit reductions.
This policy brief compares five options (four progressive price indexing and one full price indexing option) set forth by the Social Security Advisory Board to index initial benefits to price growth. It examines the distribution of benefits of Social Security beneficiaries aged 62 or older in 2030, 2050, and 2070 using Modeling Income in the Near Term (MINT) model projections. The brief finds that the full price indexing option Shield 0% would more than achieve long-term solvency by reducing benefits by about 35 percent in 2070 and would increase the aged poverty rate compared with scheduled levels. The four progressive price indexing options (Shields 30%, 40%, 50%, 60%) would produce smaller benefit reductions by exempting varying proportions of lower earners from price indexing. Those options would not increase poverty above scheduled levels, but would reduce benefits for some low earners because their auxiliary benefits come from the reduced benefits of a higher-earning spouse. The progressive price indexing options would make Social Security more progressive compared with scheduled and payable benefits, both when looking at household benefit reductions by household income in a given year and when examining the distribution of lifetime taxes and benefits.
A person's Social Security benefit, or primary insurance amount (PIA), is 90 percent of the lowest portion of lifetime earnings, plus 32 percent of the middle portion of lifetime earnings, plus 15 percent of the highest portion of lifetime earnings. This policy brief analyzes the distributional effects of three options (the three-point, five-point and upper) discussed by the Social Security Advisory Board to reduce the PIA. The first option would reduce the PIA by 3 percentage points; the second would reduce it by 5 percentage points; and the third would reduce the 32 and 15 percentages of the PIA to 21 and 10 percent, respectively. The third option would exempt about one quarter of the lowest earning beneficiaries, while reducing benefits by a median average of 19 percent in 2070. None would eliminate Social Security's long-term fiscal imbalance, although the third option would eliminate more (76 percent) of the deficit than the three-point (18 percent) and five-point (31 percent) options.
The Social Security Act of 1935 excluded from coverage about half the workers in the American economy. Among the excluded groups were agricultural and domestic workers. Some scholars have attributed this exclusion to racial bias against African Americans. In this article, the author examines the evidence of the origins of the coverage exclusions in 1935 and concludes that this particular provision had nothing to do with race.
This article provides policymakers with context for understanding past and future policy discussions regarding Social Security widow benefits. Using data from household surveys, projections from a microsimulation model, and recent research, it examines three types of benefits—those for aged widows, widows caring for children, and disabled widows.
This policy brief analyzes the lifetime tax effects of two options for addressing the Social Security system's long-range solvency by raising the Social Security payroll tax rate. The first, an immediate increase, would have raised the payroll tax rate from its current 12.4 percent to 14.4 percent in 2006; the second, a phased increase, would raise the payroll tax rate to 14.5 percent in 2020, and then to 16.6 percent in 2050. The brief also analyzes a comparative scenario in which the current tax rate is maintained through 2041 and then raised each year as needed to pay scheduled benefits. The lifetime taxes of people born 1936–2015 are analyzed using Modeling Income in the Near Term (MINT) projections. Results show that the longer a tax rate increase is delayed, the fewer workers are affected, but also the higher the increase in lifetime taxes for later generations. The results also show that both options reduce the cross-cohort variability in the ratio of benefits received to taxes paid.
This article reviews the research contributions of the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College over its 10-year history and their implications for Social Security and retirement income policy in three major areas: (1) Social Security's long-term financing shortfall, (2) the adequacy of retirement incomes, and (3) labor force participation at older ages as a means to improve retirement income security. The center has received substantial funding support from the Social Security Administration (SSA) in each area and has also successfully leveraged SSA's investment by attracting funding from other sources.
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.
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 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.
The Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) is a method of computing benefits for some workers who receive a pension based on non-Social Security covered work. At the end of 2006, about 970,000 beneficiaries, mainly retired workers, were affected by the WEP. This article provides a brief legislative history, describes the WEP computation, and presents statistical data about beneficiaries affected by the WEP.
Replacement rates are common and useful tools used by individuals and policy analysts to plan for retirement and assess the sufficiency of Social Security benefits and overall retirement income. Because the calculation and meaning of replacement rates differs depending on the definition of preretirement earnings, this article examines four alternative measures: final preretirement earnings, constant income payable from the present value of lifetime earnings (PV payment), wage-indexed average of lifetime earnings, and inflation-adjusted average of lifetime earnings (CPI average). The article also calculates replacement rates for Social Security beneficiaries aged 64–66 in 2005.
Presented is an examination of the financing history of the U.S. Social Security system from the passage of the original law in 1935 up through the enactment of the 1950 Amendments to the Social Security Act. In particular, it focuses on the 1939 Social Security Amendments and the subsequent tax rate freezes enacted between 1939 and 1949. It examines the origins of these taxing policies and assesses the impact of the rate freezes on the long-range actuarial balance of the Social Security program during this period.
This article examines the development of Japanese voluntary employer-sponsored retirement plans with an emphasis on recent trends. Before 2001, companies in Japan offered retirement benefits as lump-sum severance payments and/or benefits from one of two types of defined benefit (DB) pension plans. One DB plan type was based on an earlier occupational pension model used in the United States. The other DB plan type allowed companies to opt out of the earnings-related portion of social security. Landmark laws passed in 2001 introduced a new generation of occupational retirement plans to employers and employees, creating three new DB plan designs and two new defined contribution types of plans. Since that time, the mix of employer-sponsored retirement plans offered in Japan has changed significantly, and overall employee coverage has declined. On balance, employer-sponsored retirement plans have remained largely DB in design.
Old-Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance (OASDI, Social Security) benefits are indexed for inflation to protect beneficiaries from the loss of purchasing power implied by inflation. In the absence of such indexing, the purchasing power of Social Security benefits would be eroded as rising prices raised the cost of living. Recently, the Consumer Price Index used to calculate the Cost-of-Living-Adjustment (COLA) for OASDI benefits has come under increased scrutiny. Some argue that the current index does not accurately reflect the inflation experienced by seniors and that COLAs should be larger. Others argue that the measure of inflation underlying the COLA has technical limitations that cause it to overestimate changes in the cost of living and that COLAs should be smaller. This article discusses some of the issues involved with indexing Social Security benefits for inflation and examines the ramifications of potential changes to COLA calculations.
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.
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.
Poverty-level Annuitization Requirements in Social Security Proposals Incorporating Personal Retirement Accounts
In the current discussions of Social Security reform, voluntary personal retirement accounts have been proposed. Recent research and debate have focused on several aspects of these accounts, including how such accounts would affect aggregate saving, system finances, and benefit levels. Little attention, however, has been paid to policies that would govern the distribution of account balances. This analysis considers such policies with respect to the annuitization of account balances at retirement using the Social Security Administration's Modeling Income in the New Term (MINT) model and a modified version of a recent legislative proposal to evaluate the effects of partial annuitization requirements.
How did workers aged 65–69 respond to the removal of the retirement earnings test in 2000? Using Social Security administrative data matched with data from the Survey of Income and Program Participation, the author finds that the higher earners in this group increased their earnings, while the lower earners did not. The author reports an acceleration of benefit applications by workers aged 65–69 but no clear evidence of increased employment in this age group.
This article presents a comparison of replacement rates for employees of medium and large private establishments to replacement rates for federal employees under the Civil Service Retirement System and the Federal Employees Retirement System. This analysis shows the possibility of replacement rates exceeding 100 percent for FERS employees who contribute 6 percent of earnings to the Thrift Savings Plan over a full working career. Private-sector replacement rates were quite similar for workers with both a defined benefit and a defined contribution pension plan.
The 2001 report of the Social Security trustees projected that the combined trust funds for the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance and Disability Insurance programs will be exhausted in 2038. This analysis explains the effects of insolvency on future retirement benefits and poverty rates of beneficiaries if no action is taken to strengthen Social Security.
Some Social Security reform proposals, such as two of the three offered by the President's Commission to Strengthen Social Security, would modify and strengthen Social Security's special minimum benefit provision, which is intended to enhance benefits for low earners and is phasing out under current law. In order to inform policymakers as they continue to deliberate the provision's future, this article presents the most recent and comprehensive history and analysis available about the special minimum benefit.
The widow(er)'s limit provision of Social Security establishes caps on the benefit amounts of widow(er)s whose deceased spouse filed for early retirement benefits. Currently, 33 percent of Social Security's 8.1 million widow(er) beneficiaries have lower benefits because of that provision. This article describes the widow(er)'s limit provision and evaluates options for changing it.
How Raising the Age of Eligibility for Social Security and Medicare Might Affect the Disability Insurance and Medicare Program
This article considers two hypothetical scenarios—one in which the Medicare eligibility age is raised to 67 along with the scheduled increase in the normal retirement age, and one in which eligibility for both programs is raised to age 70. It then projects the effects that each of those changes would have on Social Security Disability Insurance participation, Medicare participation, and Medicare expenditures.
One aspect of the current debate about changing the Social Security program concerns how new rules might affect elderly women, many of whom have low income. This paper examines three possible changes: (1) a reduction in spousal benefits combined with a change in the computation of the survivor benefit, (2) a redefined minimum benefit, and (3) a 5 percent increase in benefits for persons aged 80 or older. The paper assesses the cost, distributional consequences, and antipoverty impact of each option.
This article summarizes an analysis of the poverty implications of repealing the retirement earnings test (RET). Repealing the RET at the normal retirement age or older is unlikely to generate large poverty effects. Removing the test at age 62 or older, however, could lead to large increases in poverty.
This article addresses the importance of using data for couples rather than individuals to estimate Social Security benefits. We show how individual data can underestimate actual Social Security benefits, particularly for women, and discuss how its use has implications for policy evaluation.
This study evaluates the effects of changing the averaging period used to calculate Social Security benefits from 35 years to 38 or 40 years and the introduction of a minimum benefit provision for future retirees born during the early part of the baby boom generation. Proposals to change the averaging period have been recommended by a majority of the 1994–96 Advisory Council on Social Security. Based on the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) matched to Social Security Administration earnings records, the study projects retirement benefits for different subgroups of the population under existing and proposed benefit rules. The magnitudes of the retirees' benefit changes vary by demographic group. The minimum benefit provision substantially mitigates the effects of the change to a 40-year averaging period for some groups of women.
This paper provides a brief overview of the more important studies of lifetime redistribution under the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI) and Disability Insurance (DI) programs. Studies are categorized into two types: those that focus on redistribution across successive cohorts of workers or typical members of those cohorts, and those that focus on the distribution of results across characteristics of interest within particular cohorts of workers. A list of related studies is provided at the end for those interested in additional reading.
Changing Social Security Benefits to Reflect Child-Care Years: A Policy Proposal Whose Time Has Passed?
This article estimates the effects of proposals to increase the retirement benefits of women who reduce their earnings to care for young children. Using the 1990 Survey of Income and Program Participation file—exactly matched to the Social Security Administration's record of lifetime earnings—the authors present the distribution of child-care dropout years by retirement cohort and other demographic characteristics, and estimate the dollar impact of adjustments for caregiving years. The policies examined do increase the retirement benefits of some women, but the increases on average are small, are lowered with each successive retirement cohort, and benefit women from the more privileged socioeconomic groups. Thus, because the policy effects are small and will diminish in the future, the time of efficacy for these proposals has passed. Subsidizing child-care dropout years does not seem to be a well-targeted policy.
Some proponents of the privatization of the Social Security program in the United States have suggested that, because privately available rates of return exceed the internal rate of return implicit in that program, it may be possible to find Pareto-superior privatization schemes. In a similar vein, Townley (1981) argues that, so long as the government can incur debt, a Pareto-superior scheme can always be found to convert a dynamically inefficient pay-as-you-go Social Security program to a fully funded basis. This note uses Townley's own model to demonstrate analytically that Pareto-superior schemes to reverse a dynamically inefficient pay-as-you-go social security program do not exist, either through privatization or through conversion of the program to a fully funded basis.
In recent years, a number of proposals have been advanced for privatizing all or part of the Social Security program in the United States. These proposals range from the immediate abolition to the gradual phasing-out of Social Security taxes and benefits. This paper evaluates several premises that often underlie privatization proposals—that rates of return in the private sector exceed those implicit in the Social Security program, that privatization would lead to an increase in national saving, and that privatization could somehow improve the lifetime welfare of all affected generations. The paper first considers whether rates of return in the private sector actually exceed those implicit in the Social Security program and discuss the conditions required for privatization to lead to an increase in national saving. The paper then demonstrates theoretically that an existing, well-managed, pay-as-you-go social security program is Pareto optimal in an economy with exogenous factor prices, regardless of the extent to which privately available rates of return exceed those implicit in the pay-as-you-go program; i.e., no privatization scheme can be found that benefits at least one present or future generation without harming at least one other generation, and no scheme can be found that allows the winners from privatization to compensate the losers and still come out ahead. The analysis is extended to incorporate the assumption of endogenous factor prices and the possibility that pay-as-you-go social security programs reduce private saving. The theoretical conclusions are illustrated by using a long-run economic projection model to simulate the aggregate economic and intergenerational redistributive effects of two stylized privatization schemes.
Simulating Aggregate and Distributional Effects of Various Plans for Modifying the Retirement Earnings Test
Social Security's retirement test continues to receive considerable attention among policymakers. During the past several years a variety of proposals have been advanced that would modify or eliminate the test for persons aged 65–69. In January 1989, we completed a study report, prepared for SSA internal use, that examined several of these proposals, analyzing their effect on earnings, taxes, and benefits in the first year of implementation, assumed to be 1990. The analysis included both aggregate estimates and estimates for selected population subgroups.
Although the specific proposals for modifying the retirement test have changed somewhat during the past 2 years, continued congressional interest has prompted the release of this initial version of our research for public discussion. Because we are in the process of revising the report for final publication, readers are cautioned that numbers and interpretations contained in this paper are subject to change.
This note discusses the net revenue estimates in the report "Paying People Not to Work: the Economic Cost of the Social Security Retirement Earnings Limit," by Aldona Robbins and Gary Robbins.
Evidence on the Effects of Payroll Tax Changes on Wage Growth and Price Inflation: A Review and Reconciliation
The Social Security payroll tax rate is scheduled to increase by almost 1 percent for both employees and employers between now and 1990. One of the major elements of the recently adopted Social Security package was an acceleration of the timing of this increase. A number of economists have recommended that as an anti-inflationary policy scheduled increases be avoided or even that the current rates be rolled back.
This paper presents analysis of the distributional and other effects of a change from the existing income tax exclusion of Social Security benefits to the proposed 50 percent inclusion. In emphasizing the differences between these two policies, very limited attention will be given to other policy alternatives.
Social Security has sizable obligations to workers who contributed and made savings decisions in the anticipation of future benefits, and the assessment of future options must explicitly account for impacts on these as well as future participants. To this end, our paper develops cohort-specific, general-equilibrium comparisons of concrete policy alternatives.
This paper reports on estimates of federal income tax and Social Security tax liabilities of family units in 1972 and summarizes the methods used to make the estimates. Distributions of income both before and after subtracting those liabilities are shown. Several microdata files were combined using both "exact" and "statistical" matching of individual observations in the process of making these estimates.
This paper analyzes four aspects of the Social Security benefit computation—the indexing of wage histories prior to computing average indexed monthly earnings, the number of years over which wages are averaged, the particular years of wages that are eligible for inclusion in the average, and the method of adjusting for length of service in the paid labor force. It reports how particular groups of retirees—men and women, blacks and whites, high-wage and low-wage—would fare under alternative benefit computation schemes.