November Unemployment Report for Workers Over 55 Tweet:

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) today reported a 3.5% unemployment rate for workers age 55 and older in November, a decrease of 0.2 percentage points from October.

Older Workers in Rust-Belt States Flip

While “Older Workers at a Glance” shows steady growth in real earnings for older workers, national averages mask long-run stagnation and decline in the four rust-belt states - Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin - that unexpectedly voted for Donald Trump after voting for President Obama in 2012. 

Before Reagan, older workers in these four states received higher wages than older workers in the rest of the country. Now they are doing worse. In 1979, rust-belt older workers were making $3,600 more than their counterparts elsewhere. In 2015, they were earning $4,000 less. Between 1979 and 2015, the median real wage for older workers in the four rust-belt states that flipped to Trump increased only 1% compared to 17% in the rest of the U.S.

Stagnant and declining real wages erode workers’ ability to save for retirement and increase their reliance on Social Security. To address the economic insecurities of working families, the Trump administration needs to create a path to a secure retirement by expanding Social Security and providing universal access to secure retirement plans through Guaranteed Retirement Accounts.

 

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Older Workers are Increasingly Concentrated in Low-Wage Jobs Tweet:

The Bureau of Labor Statistics today reported an unemployment rate of 3.7% for workers aged 55 and older in October. However, the unemployment rate fails to reflect the increasing concentration of older workers in low-wage service jobs.

Women are in the majority of low paying jobs for older workersFirst, older workers are more likely than younger workers to be in low-wage jobs. A low-wage job pays less than two-thirds the median wage, or $539 per week. In September, 27.1% of full-time workers aged 55 and older were in low-wage jobs compared to 19.0% of younger workers.

Second, the share of older workers in low-wage jobs has increased over time, while the share for younger workers has stayed the same. The September share of older workers in low-wage jobs, 27.1%, is 1.4 percentage points higher than the share ten years ago (25.7%).

Third, women are the majority of workers in seven of the top 10 low-wage jobs for older workers, primarily service occupations. They make up more than 75% of older workers in four of the top ten jobs, despite being a minority of older workers.

Older workers in low-paying service jobs face extra difficulty saving for retirement. This may be a particular problem for older women workers who are unlikely to have access to a retirement plan. Living paycheck to paycheck, even those with coverage have little room to cut consumption to increase retirement savings.

To enjoy a secure retirement, low-wage workers need a retirement plan, not a low wage job. The need is becoming ever more pressing as the Social Security Full Retirement Age is increased, equivalent to a cut in benefits for those who do not delay retirement. Guaranteed Retirement Accounts (GRAs) supplement Social Security in combating old-age poverty by providing all workers a retirement savings vehicle with low fees and guaranteed growth, allowing even low-wage workers a path to secure retirement.

 

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I am honored to be named as one of Next Avenue’s 2016 Influencers in Aging for my work to reform our broken retirement savings system by giving every American a Guaranteed Retirement Account.  Each year, the Influencers in Aging list recognizes 50 thought-leaders at the forefront of changing how we age and how we think about aging. Influencers are leaders in improving the lives of older adults and their families and communities. 

Influencers in Aging Description

I'm honored to join experts from business, labor, and academia on Philadelphia’s Task Force on Retirement Security for Private Sector Employees. Chaired by Councilwoman Cherelle Parker, the 16-person group is charged with issuing a report to the Council recommending policy solutions to address the city’s retirement crisis.

In 2016, SCEPA produced a report for the City Council at the request of Councilwoman Parker describing the retirement crisis in Philadelphia. It found that only 47% of Philadelphia’s workforce has access to a retirement plan at work, compared with 53% of workers nationally. Philadelphia’s seniors are more likely to be poor or near poor, with 50% having incomes below 200% of the poverty line, compared with 31% nationally.

Philadelphia is the latest in a series of cities and states to recognize and confront the retirement crisis. I sit on a similar commission for New York State and has been asked to advise on plans in some of the 29 states that have proposed or implemented retirement reform in the past five years.

Philadelphia is not waiting for the federal government to act on the upcoming retirement crises. At SCEPA, we have found the average 401(k) and IRA balance for older workers is $14,500 and half the workforce does not have access to a retirement plan at work. Middle class retirees risk working into their 70s or living an impoverished retirement. We hope to help all Philadelphia workers retire by contributing to a professionally managed, low fee retirement account that pays a pension for life.

In the absence of federal action, cities and states have taken the lead in proposing solutions to the retirement crisis. But to provide everyone a viable path out of the retirement crisis requires a national solution. I propose Guaranteed Retirement Accounts -- mandatory, universal savings accounts with a guaranteed rate of return -- as the best way to ensure that everyone can retire with dignity.

Edward Wolff, an economist at New York University (NYU) presented his latest paper, “U.S. Pensions in the 2000’s: The Lost Decade” on October 14, 2016 as part of the Economics of Aging speaker series. His work examines trends in pension, total wealth, and wealth inequality between 1986 and 2010, a period during which 401(k) plans largely displaced traditional defined benefit retirement plans in the private sector. 

Presentation: U.S. Pensions in the 2000's: The Lost Decade

The Political Economics of Aging speaker series is a forum for academics and practitioners to share and engage in cutting edge research in social policy and the political economy of aging. The series is designed to forge interdisciplinary connections and examine how to progressively manage an aging society. The series is sponsored by SCEPA's Retirement Equity Lab, led by myself and Tony Webb.

The event was free and open to the public.

More than 1 in 10 Older Workers Who Want a Job are Unemployed or Underemployed Tweet: More than 1 in 10 older workers who want a job are unemployed or underemployed #JobsReport pic.twitter.com/vpHKbPArxf bit.ly/2e8gBkC</a> width=

This morning’s job report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) calculates a 3.6% unemployment rate for workers age 55 and older in September, an increase of 0.1 percentage points from August. Given this low rate, the labor market for older workers appears healthy. However, if we include all those over 55 who reported in August they would like a job, more than 1 in 10 were either unemployed or underemployed.

Unemployment Rate Overstates Labor Markers for Older WorkersThe 3.6% headline unemployment rate, referred to as U-3 by the BLS, includes only workers who actively sought work last month. The BLS also reports U-6 for all workers, a broader definition of unemployment that also includes those who looked for work within the past year or worked part-time while wanting full-time jobs. However, this still misses the “hidden unemployed,” those who would like a job but gave up looking more than a year ago. Since the BLS doesn’t compute this number, we use the latest available Current Population Survey (CPS) data from August to calculate an unemployment rate that includes the hidden unemployed, which we call U-7.

The BLS reports an August headline U-3 unemployment rate for older workers of 3.5%. Using CPS data, the same data used by the BLS to calculate U-3, we calculate the broader U-6 measure at 8.7% for workers over 55, and our inclusive U-7 rate at 11.1%. U-3 represents 1.3 million older Americans who looked for a job in the month of August, U-6 includes an additional 425,000 people who looked for work within the last year and 1.4 million who worked part-time while wanting full-time work, and U-7 includes an additional one million hidden unemployed.

Many discouraged older workers give up looking for a job and involuntarily retire. However, early retirement is far from a panacea. First, retiring early means lower monthly Social Security benefits. Second, because households nearing retirement have a median of only $12,000 in retirement savings, early retirement increases the risk of downward mobility and old-age poverty.

With more than 1 in 10 older workers either unemployed or underemployed, delaying retirement is not a solution to the failings of the retirement savings system. Guaranteed Retirement Accounts (GRAs) provide a mechanism to ensure workers save throughout their careers and insure against the risk of old-age poverty due to job loss.

 

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Book Draws Praise from Two Former Chairmen of White House Council on Economic Advisors

Screen Shot 2016 09 30 at 12.06.33 PMEconomist Teresa Ghilarducci, one of the nation’s leading experts on retirement security, and Blackstone President Hamilton “Tony” James today announced the publication of their co-authored book, Rescuing Retirement: A Plan to Guarantee Retirement Security for All Americans, at a reception hosted by Michael Bloomberg. The book outlines a deficit-neutral proposal to ensure that all workers can save enough to retire through mandated, individually-owned, and effectively-invested Guaranteed Retirement Accounts. Left unaddressed, the authors emphasize, the strain of a newly poor population of senior citizens would devastate federal, state, and local budgets for decades to come.

Key components of their visionary plan include:

  1. Universal coverage: Every American worker would have their own Guaranteed Retirement Account, ensuring consistent retirement savings throughout their career.
  2. Individually owned, effectively invested: Unlike Social Security, workers keep ownership of their assets through transparent individual accounts. As with traditional pension plans, their assets will be pooled and invested in long-term, strategies that generate higher returns than current 401(k) plans.
  3. Deficit-neutral and costless for families at or below median income: The plan redeploys current tax subsidies more evenly across the income distribution, and uses existing Federal payment infrastructure, avoiding a negative impact on the budget.
  4. Guaranteed lifetime income: Upon retiring, savings will be returned through life-long payments, guaranteeing a continuous standard of living as long as retirees live.
  5. Bipartisan appeal: This model keeps accounts under personal control, distributing savings based on the amount invested, not based on income, and without impacting the budget or raising taxes. 

The publication of the book coincides with the launch of a website dedicated to the plan and its promotion, rescuingretirement.org, and a social campaign driven by the hashtag #fixretirement on Twitter and Facebook. “This book should be required reading for everyone concerned with how Americans will fund their retirements and makes a compelling case that it should include us all. It is an important conversation starter in an area that will only get more relevant in the years to come,” said Austan Goolsbee, Former Chairman, White House Council of Economic Advisers.

“At a moment when America's retirees are caught in the middle of a political tug-of-war, James and Ghilarducci offer a new way forward. Rescuing Retirement proposes a provocative yet practical solution to America's pending retirement crisis,” said Alan Krueger, Professor of Economics, Princeton University and Former Chairman, White House Council of Economic Advisers.

“Our retirement system is broken – if we do not take action, America will face rates of poverty among senior citizens not seen since the Great Depression,” said Teresa Ghilarducci. “Our Retirement Savings Plan is a pragmatic solution that includes no new taxes, will not increase the deficit, and intelligently integrates into existing infrastructure to address this massive issue that cuts across all demographics.”

Said Hamilton “Tony” James, President and Chief Operating Officer of Blackstone: “If the country acts now, we can solve this problem, and solve it relatively painlessly for everyone. Our plan is a simple, sustainable, low-cost and politically viable proposal to enable workers to save and invest more effectively to secure their retirement.”

“Clear, thoughtful, and engaging. This book is a must-read for future retirees, policymakers, and anyone concerned with our nation's future,” said Christian Weller, Senior Fellow, Center for American Progress.

“We may have philosophical differences, but the plan put forth by Teresa and Tony provides a bold, refreshing approach to modernizing America's retirement infrastructure,” said Bill Jansien, CEO, StoneHedge Global Partners and member, Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board.

The publication of this book follows the authors’ March 2016 white paper published by the Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis (SCEPA) at the New School, “A Comprehensive Plan to Confront the Retirement Savings Crisis,” and their January 2016 New York Times op-ed, “A Smarter Plan to Make Retirement Savings Last,” in which they wrote, “Our plan would guarantee millions of Americans safe and secure retirements that would benefit them, their families, and the nation’s economy.”