2019 Q1 Status of Older Workers Report

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  • Lagging Wages: Older-worker wage growth is minimal and lags behind prime-age wage growth.
  • Loss of Bargaining Power: Older workers increasingly resort to precarious alternative work, eroding their bargaining power and impacting other older workers' wages. 
  • Policy Recommendations: Congress and the President should create an Older Workers' Bureau, Guaranteed Retirement Accounts, and expanded Social Security to protect older workers.

Download the full report here
*Arrows next to "Older Workers at a Glance" statistics reflect the change from the previous quarter's data. 
Stagnant Wages


Alternative Work Suppresses Wages

One development suppressing wage growth for older workers is the proliferation of alternative work arrangements [AWAs], including on-call work, employment in contract firms, temporary agency work, independent contracting, and gig work (classified as “electronically mediated employment”). The share of workers ages 55 to 75 who reported working in an AWA increased from 15.4% in 2005 to 24.4% in 2015. And from 2005 to 2015, 94% of net employment growth took place in alternative work arrangements (Katz and Kreuger 2016).

Both Katz and Krueger (2016) and an equivalent Bureau of Labor Statistics survey conducted in 2017 show that workers over 55 are three times more likely than workers under 35, and twice as likely as workers ages 35-54, to be in AWAs.

The common image of alternative work is of independent contractors: successful, self-employed workers who control their own work schedules and intensity levels. However, independent contractors comprise a shrinking minority of people in AWAs.

Most workers in alternative arrangements lack the ability to bargain over the terms of their employment. Gig workers often find their jobs through electronically mediated platforms which explicitly prevent bargaining over wages. On-call workers have limited control over their schedules. Moreover, a quarter of on-call workers are on zero-hours contracts, meaning they must be ready to come to work at any time but are not guaranteed any hours - and thus not guaranteed to earn a wage. In addition, the Economic Policy Institute estimates that between 10-20% of employers skirt labor protections to cut costs by misclassifying traditional employees as independent contractors.

Independent contractors, on-call, gig, temp agency and contract firm jobs all share the lack of an internal labor market. In the past, firms promoted from within and provided on-the-job training to their employees. Unions supported internal labor markets to lessen the number of entry-level jobs, ensuring that promotion ladders and training programs continued to provide workers with a path to regular raises and promotions. With the erosion of unions, internal labor markets and training programs have disintegrated. Instead of using entry-level jobs as a tool to find future prime talent, firms now hire top talent from outside, expecting workers to acquire necessary skills on their own. A growing share of low-skilled jobs are handled by contract firms and temp agencies. With no path to promotion or wage increases, labor economists call these trends the fissuring of the workplace.

While some older workers cite flexibility and autonomy as reasons for taking on alternative work, they are outnumbered 2-to-1 by those who cite financial or labor market reasons. Four in 10 older workers have no retirement savings, including one-third of workers in the top 10% of earners. Inability to retire erodes workers’ bargaining power (see ReLab's working paper, "Why American Older Workers Have Lost Bargaining Power"). Moreover, older workers face age discrimination in the labor market; older workers who are fired or laid off spend twice as long looking for work as their younger counterparts. The fissuring of the workplace permits firms to exploit older workers’ desperation through lower wage offers. Bottom line: Eroding bargaining power among some older workers can impact other older workers’ wages. Older workers’ willingness to take on precarious alternative work is a signal to employers that they do not have to raise wages.

Policy Recommendations

1. Older Workers Bureau:
The time has come to devote special attention to the increasing vulnerability of older workers. To protect older workers from exploitation, the U.S. Department of Labor should create an Older Worker’s Bureau, similar to the creation of the Women’s Bureau in 1920 to protect women in the labor market.

2. Guaranteed Retirement Accounts and Social Security Expansion:
Working longer is not an antidote to inadequate retirement savings for most workers, especially those in low-paying AWAs. While a small number – 2% – of older workers cite alternative work as a way of making ends meet until they can retire, low wages and lack of access to retirement plan coverage on the job mean older workers taking on these jobs have little ability to save.

All workers deserve to have a choice between work and retirement at older ages. Increased Social Security benefits and the creation of Guaranteed Retirement Accounts (GRAs) would allow all Americans access to a secure retirement. GRAs are a proposal for universal individual accounts funded by employer and employee contributions throughout a worker’s career and a refundable tax credit. With GRAs, workers can accumulate the savings they need to retire, rather than be forced into precarious, low-paying, alternative arrangements. Moreover, if older workers could choose retirement over bad jobs, employers would be compelled to offer better pay and offer traditional employment to those choosing to extend their careers.



Unemployment Rates

The headline unemployment rate (U-3) for workers ages 55 remained at 2.9% this quarter (from January to March), which represents no change from last quarter. ReLab’s U-7 figure includes everyone in headline unemployment, plus marginally attached and discouraged workers, involuntary part-time workers, and the involuntarily retired (those who say they want a job but have not looked in over a year). U-7 increased from 6.5% to 6.8% in the last three months. The share of jobless older workers who reported spending more than 39 weeks looking for work in the first quarter was 42%.



Low-Paying Jobs

Older workers are increasingly employed in low-wage jobs. If nothing changes, Bureau of Labor Statistics projections indicate older women will be disproportionately working low-wage personal and home health care jobs (1.3 million jobs projected to be added between 2016 and 2026). Older women are predicted to constitute 37% of these care jobs and only 14% of the entire labor force in 2026. Just 7% of personal and home health care aides are union members, and 24% earn less than $15/hour. Overall, 13% of college-educated, full-time older workers reported earnings of less than $15/hour in the last quarter, down one percentage point from the previous quarter.



Retirement Coverage

Workplace retirement plan coverage remained low in 2018 at just 44%. Growth in alternative work arrangements is partly to blame, since AWAs almost never offer retirement coverage.


 


Suggested Citation: Retirement Equity Lab. (2019). “10+ Years of No Wage Growth: The Role of Alternative Jobs and Gig Work.” Status of Older Workers Report Series. New York, NY. Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis at The New School for Social Research.

This is a repost from Forbes. 
 
Voters by Ages from the Census Department

Voters by Ages from the Census Department - US CENSUS


A recent poll spells bad news for Joe Biden (76), Bernie Sanders (77), and even Donald Trump (72), and very bad news for those hoping to stamp out age bigotry. Fewer voters want someone over 75 compared to candidates with other characteristics, such as being black, or gay, or a woman, or a Muslim. Being a "socialist" is the most undesirable characteristic listed.

The NBC/WSJ poll tested 11 different presidential characteristics and their acceptability in a presidential candidate. The most popular: an African American (a combined 87 percent of all voters said they were “enthusiastic” or “comfortable” with that characteristic), a white man (86%), a woman (84%), and someone who is gay or lesbian (68% compared to 43% in 2006). The least popular: a Muslim (49%, though up from 32% in 2015), someone over the age of 75 (37%) and a socialist (25%). Those polled may be overstating their tolerance for African Americans and women; they don’t want to look bad to the pollster. But it's notable that, for many Americans, saying 75 is too old is not viewed as bigotry or an act of discriminatory prejudgment.

As I wrote in March, many Americans view prejudgment based on age legitimate. We don’t see widespread public arguments that Kamala Harris and Cory Booker are too black to run. Nor are Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar, and Kirsten Gillibrand too female to run. Every hire (and an election is a hiring decision) is a judgement about the potential productivity of a candidate. The relevant question in every hire is whether the candidate will be engaged and competent for the job at hand. Does the candidate have the knowledge and talent to do the work?

Age Discrimination is Harmful

The harm of age discrimination on the campaign trail is trivial compared to the widespread pain and damage that lies beneath the ageism. Though illegal, age discrimination in employment, pay, training, and promotion persists. Ageism makes it a struggle for older workers to get raises and jobs. A recent study illustrated widespread employer bias against older workers. A majority of employers surveyed by Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies answered that age 64 was too old to be considered for employment (this was the median age given by employers, though most refused to give an age—wisely, since it's against the law to consider age in hiring and promotion and pay). On the other hand, the median age that workers gave as being too old to work was 75. The workers’ answer still makes it complicated for the candidates over age 75.

Who is too old to be President?

I am an expert in labor economics and the economics of aging. The range of opinions from my colleagues who are professionals in the field fascinates me. Duke history professor James Chappel and English professor Sari Edelstein of University of Massachusetts, Boston, wrote last week in the Washington Post that no one is too old to be president. They argued firmly that while older people are much more healthy than in the past, they are falsely viewed as having cognitive decline that affects their capacity to do a job in the real world. Modern cognitive tests of capacity continually show that older people do not significantly differ in overall scores; some older people perform as well as, or better than, most younger people.

Chappel and Edelstein report disapprovingly on comedic poop jokes directed at Bernie Sanders, age 77; the insulting bigotry masquerading as a “joke” is that Senator Sanders is sponsored by Metamucil and was present for the signing of the American Constitution.

My colleagues are divided. One writes (and I will report their comments anonymously because they were privately made on a listserv): “At some point something is a risk and a greater risk for some demographic categories than for others. As any insurance company could tell you. So it's reasonable to worry about Biden, without making that a determining factor.”

Another wrote: “Age can also be associated with experience and wisdom and perspective.” Another wrote that so-called signs of aging could be just an ageless characteristic of someone. It is just “Biden Being Biden.”

The experts seem to be about split between those fighting back against the ageism and defending it. Here is a defense: “Suggesting that someone who would be well into his ninth decade if he served two terms is too old to run for president is not ageism.” This comment was met by a practical response: “The obvious solution, as it always is with candidates of any age, is to make sure there's a good succession in place (i.e., a proper VP pick). It certainly isn't to avoid elevating an otherwise good or preferable candidate because of what might happen in the future—'cause, well, it's the future.”

Margaret Morganroth Gullette, author of Ending Ageism, or How Not to Shoot Old People, sums up the ageism debate with common sense. Gullette argues the rigors of campaigning are a good screen for the bottom-line qualifications necessary to be president: “Weathering a presidential campaign proves the contestant has far better health and stamina than anyone of any age who hasn't done it. A presidential candidate should be judged on verbal agility, reasoning power, historical knowledge, and vision of the common good.”

This is a repost from Forbes. 
 
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The federal debt limit expired on March 1. Why does it matter? Markets didn’t move and the holders of the $22 trillion in national debt didn’t utter a peep of worry that the U.S. government wouldn’t pay its interest or redeem its bonds. The government is now taking temporary measures to pay its bills—delaying intragovernmental transfers and probably looking for coins in the couch cushions. The U.S. loses its legal authority to pay out cash in fall 2019.

Not many nations can announce they legally can’t pay all of their debts and yet avoid a wiggle in the credit risk of their bonds. Imagine a nation, say Argentina or Italy, signals the government can’t legally pay debt; their interest rates would soar. When the limit is reached, the U.S. Treasury can’t borrow any more, which one would think would cause a crisis of confidence, severely impacting the real economy for fear the government would default on our debt. But the risk premium on U.S. Treasuries did not budge much.

That Americans own most of the debt helps calm markets, but interest rate increases can trigger recessions.  

The Federal government, Social Security, Medicare, Military and the Federal Retirement system own 27% of the debt. Social Security, Medicare, the Military and the Federal Retirement System, all government agencies, hold a surplus and invest in U.S. government bonds. Foreign governments and investors hold 30 percent of it. Individuals, banks and investors hold 15 percent. The Federal Reserve holds 12 percent. Mutual funds hold 9 percent. State and local governments own 5 percent. The rest is held by workers through pension funds, insurance companies, and savings bonds.

Unlike virtually all other countries, the U.S. needs congressional approval to raise the debt limit, a self-imposed brake on spending imposed in 1917 during the rapid spending under World War 1. The mechanics of lifting it will become, again, a pitched political battle between President Trump and a passive Republican Senate versus House Democrats in the fall.

Interest rates, already one of the fastest rising costs in the federal budget, will rise as the political crisis builds, because foreign borrowers will demand an additional risk premium. And rising interest rates will impact U.S. Treasuries, mortgages, credit cards, car loans, student debt, and corporate debt. If workers, households, students, and corporations can’t pay their bills because of the interest rate shocks, the economy could go into recession.

Not raising the debt ceiling can lead to a shutdown. Punting on the debt limit has led to frequent government shutdowns, as government takes even more drastic action to slow down spending. Non-essential government spending stops, hitting a wide range of programs and agencies.

In December we endured a government shutdown and after 6 weeks Congress and the President agreed to a budget bill that included paying its debt. You might remember that bill hammered out in February only extended the debt limit to—you guessed it—March 1, 2019. As with all debt limits, the Treasury Department can take “extraordinary measures” (which actually now are virtually standard operating procedure) to put off the day of reckoning, but most budget experts think that will only get us to about September.

In the background of the micro politics is the macro issue of the government running unprecedented deficits in good economic times. Though the economy is doing well the federal deficit is soaring, mainly driven by the Trump tax cuts. The bipartisan Congressional Budget Office predicts the annual deficit will be over $900 billion this fiscal year and keep rising to over $1 trillion annually starting in 2022.

Annual deficits add to debt so that the ratio of debt to GDP will hit 78 percent this fiscal year—twice its average over the past 50 years. Debt to GDP could eventually reach 90 percent or higher, the same as it was at the end of World War II.

Debt can be good. There is no magic ratio that will suddenly tank the economy. But persistent debt increases during an economic expansion leave fiscal policy with very little power to fight a recession. Even the Federal Reserve’s ability to lower interest rates will fight against risk premiums generated by more debt.

Since 1917 Congress has had to solve the politics around fiscal hygiene.  House Democrats have reinstated the “Gephardt Rule,” named for former Majority Leader Dick Gephardt (D-MO), which automatically increases the debt limit when Congress enacts spending bills.  (This is what most countries do rather than taking separate votes on debt limits.) Makes sense to me—if you’re going to authorize spending, then pay for it. And if tax revenue isn’t high enough, then you have to borrow the funds. But Senate Republicans won’t enact the rule—despite support from a scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute and elsewhere—as a way to depoliticize a task of a functioning government.

The paradox of Washington (and other places with contentious negotiations) is that dangerous situations can increase brinkmanship, not lead to safer bipartisan solutions. Gephardt got the rule passed because Ds and Rs both wanted to avoid a default. But the very taboo of a default encourages some legislators to proposed adding controversial legislation to the debt bill. Gaming the crisis can force divisive proposals through that would otherwise fail.

September is the end of the federal fiscal year so we face a potential shutdown and the expiration of the federal budget. Some Democrat and Republicans want to raise the debt limit sooner than the fall, but if the recent past is any guide, that won’t happen. There is little, if any, trust between congressional Democrats and the Trump Administration.

Debt and the threat of default extract little, if any, political cost

It is a cliché to say that the budget process has broken down. Indeed, it actually works the way some of the most partisan actors want. As Stan Collender, one of the best budget commentators we have, has observed: “Congress is very willing to bend or completely ignore its own budget rules whenever leaders want, especially because members don't fear any political retribution for doing so.” Last November, he predicted “more budget cliffhanger endings in the future, and we shouldn’t count on the congressional leadership to push changes to stop them from happening.” And that’s where we are now, and where we seem to be stuck for the foreseeable future.

This is a repost from Forbes. 
 
'Los Angeles, California, USA - November 22nd 2011:

Los Angeles, California, USA - November 22nd 2011 - GETTY


President Trump has two seats to fill on the Federal Reserve Board of Governors—those people who (along with a rotating cast of regional Federal Reserve Bank presidents) set interest rate policy, target inflation rates and supervise banks in the US. Trump had been considering nominees for two seats, which carry a 14-year term: conservative commentator Stephen Moore and former Republican presidential candidate and ex-CEO of the Godfather pizza chain Herman Cain. Both have criticized the Fed—and Trump’s own choice for chairman, Jerome Powell—for keeping interest rates too high.

On Monday, after weeks of criticism, Cain “withdrew” his name from consideration, reportedly over concerns that sexual harassment charges that arose during his presidential campaign would resurface in confirmation hearings. Many observers think the withdrawal was engineered by the White House, as at least four Republican senators had announced their opposition, enough to defeat Cain if no Democrats voted for him.

Moore, for now, seems to be hanging in there, although a series of controversial past statements about women may sink him as well. CNN has reported older comments where Moore said women tennis players seeking equal prize money wanted “higher pay than an equally skilled man…the opposite of what is meant by pay equity." He also wrote that men’s college basketball should have “no more women refs, no women announcers, no women beer vendors, no women anything" unless they were physically attractive, and that one female announcer should wear a halter top on air. (Moore now claims he was joking.)

Moore has vocal supporters, including Forbes commentator John Tamny, who think Moore’s economic views are important and should be represented on the Fed. Tamny writes that professional economists oppose his nomination based on “pathetic theories...rooted in the view that central planning actually works.”

But professional economists from widely different political camps disagree. New York Times columnist and Nobel prizewinner Paul Krugman said Moore is “manifestly, flamboyantly unqualified for the position.” And Harvard economist and former Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under George W. Bush Greg Mankiw calls Moore a “rah-rah partisan” who does not have “the intellectual gravitas for this important job.”

Although some conservatives are digging in to support Moore, Cain may actually have been better qualified for the Fed (although I would not support either nominee.) As economist Brad DeLong pointed out, Cain has business experience and served as chairman of the board for the Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank (although DeLong thinks there would be many better choices from the business community). Meanwhile Moore, in DeLong’s view, has been “willing to dump whatever of his previous policy positions (free trade? TPP? gold standard? anything else?) over the side whenever his political masters demand.”

Trump’s previous Fed nominees have been non-controversial and easily confirmed, including both the Chairman and the Vice-Chairman positions. But Moore represents a sharp turn, with a public record attacking the Fed. In January, Moore told the Washington Post that “Trump, who is not an economist, has more sense of the economy than these 500 overpaid economists at the Federal Reserve,” one of several pointed criticisms of the institution and its policies.

So why is Trump nominating political ideologues for the Federal Reserve Board and not well-established professionals? Forbes commentator Kenneth Rapoza thinks Trump is “stacking the bench” at the Fed, trying to keep interest rates down in the face of a weakening economy that could hurt his 2020 re-election campaign. And as I recently argued here, the Fed may lack adequate tools to fight the next recession. So trying to keep it from happening in the first place may be Trump's best bet, and “stacking the bench” at the Fed with Moore and others like him may be part of his strategy.

This is a repost from Forbes. 
 
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Nobel Prize-winning economist Richard Thaler made a splash on Thursday at the Brookings Institution, slamming 401(k)s and promoting Social Security. It was a bit surprising given Thaler's conservative bent. He proposed that the Social Security Administration should get into the annuity business by allowing retirees to direct some of their retirement savings toward their Social Security balances to beef up their monthly payments.

Thaler wants to solve a problem that all Americans with 401(k) and IRA plan balances face. How do you take $92,000—the median level of holdings for workers approaching retirement age—and make it last a lifetime? That is, how do you avoid outliving your money? This is not a problem for Social Security or a defined benefit plan because they are paid out in lifelong income—they are annuities.

Annuities are helpful. They allow families to convert lump sums to lifetime income. Yet as New School research economist Anthony Webb argues, while annuities are attractive in theory—people like their Social Security and defined benefit plans—few households actually purchase annuities. Part of the reason is that people think they will die sooner than the actuarial tables predict. But this behavioral bias is less important than the simple fact that voluntary, private annuities are not good deals.

Annuities are a bad bargain not because of the rapacious profits of insurance companies—well, that is part of the problem—but because people who volunteer to buy annuities run a higher risk of living a long time. Insurance companies know that only healthy retirees are likely to buy annuities, so they must charge prices that reflect the low mortality rates of those who actually buy their product. The exorbitant prices of annuities and other insurance products—think individual health care plans—are a result of what the industry calls adverse selection.

Thaler wants to alleviate that issue by allowing retirees to essentially purchase annuities through Social Security. He suggests that savers could devote between $100,000 and $250,000 of their 401(k) or IRA wealth to the government annuities, whose prices would reflect a fairer actuarial value—not the lower mortality of people who currently buy annuities, but the higher mortality rate of the population as a whole.

As Thaler explained Thursday, “I’d much rather do this than have the fly-by-night insurance company in Mississippi offering some private version of the same thing.”

But there are three problems with Thaler’s proposal, and they are fatal. First, we believe this proposal would do little to encourage annuitization. Second, it would weaken the Social Security Trust Fund. Finally, it would favor high-income people at the expense of lower earners.

To address the first point, Thaler’s proposal would do little to overcome the behavioral biases against annuitization. All that would likely happen is that people who currently buy annuities from insurance companies would now buy them from the Social Security Administration.

But as insurance companies have found over the years, annuity purchasers have lower-than-average mortality. So the Social Security Administration would make a loss if it priced those annuities in reference to the average mortality of the population. The loss from adverse selection would ultimately be borne by the Trust Fund. The winners would be the wealthy, who currently buy annuities from insurance companies, and in the future would get better prices from the Social Security Administration.

At the Retirement Equity Lab at The New School for Social Research, we have a better way of increasing lifetime income in retirement: Social Security Catch-Up contributions. This plan wouldn’t hurt Social Security’s finances and its benefits wouldn’t accrue mainly to the rich. The catch-up plan represents a better way to get more annuities from Social Security.

Here’s the plan at a glance: At age 50, workers would be defaulted into catch-up contributions of 3.1 percent of salary, a 50 percent increase on current employee contributions. Participants would be credited with a 50 percent bonus in their contribution record, so that a worker making $50,000 would be credited with a contribution of $75,000.

The catch-up plan has two good outcomes. First, the proposal uses the power of defaults to achieve widespread participation—more of a shove than a nudge. It also uses the progressivity of the Social Security benefit formula to protect against adverse selection. Although our calculations show that catch-up contributions would be attractive to higher earners, the wealthy would receive a lower rate of return on contributions than lower earners due to the progressive nature of the Social Security benefit formula.*

We hope Richard Thaler can formalize his idea and embrace the catch-up proposal. On one crucial point, at least, we are on the same page: strengthening and expanding the popular and efficient Social Security system.

 

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*Higher earners have lower mortality than lower earners, so adverse selection on the basis of mortality will be offset by the lower returns higher earners will receive on their contributions.

This is a repost from Forbes. 
 
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As tax day approaches, American taxpayers will wonder if they benefited from the Trump tax cut. Most people don’t think they did. Only 17% of Americans think the bill is reducing their taxes, even though the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center estimated that up to 80% would see some reduction in their federal taxes. There are five reasons for this mismatch between reality and impressions.

First, many people will technically have lower taxes, but the cuts are so tiny as to be hardly noticeable. The Tax Policy Center estimates the 60% of Americans at the lower end of the income distribution will have federal tax savings of less than $1,000. Also, most people believe the tax cuts didn’t benefit people like them but only the very wealthy. They are right. Those in the top 1% save $51,000.

Second, as Forbes contributor Howard Gleckman explained, the tax changes affected withholding through increases in the standard deduction and other provisions, especially the limit on deductibility of state and local taxes (SALT). But many taxpayers didn’t change their withholding allowances, so they may not have withheld the correct amounts in each time period. This means their tax refund is smaller than expected. The smaller-than-expected refund could be feeding a perception that taxes have increased even when they fell slightly.

Third, most Americans perceive the Trump tax cuts didn't benefit them because the highest income groups benefited the most . This is not only because of the rate changes, but because the drop in corporate taxes and rise in corporate profits ended up as higher incomes for the wealthiest households. The biggest winners in the Trump tax cuts were corporations and the households that get income from corporate profits—that is, the very wealthiest Americans. The top corporate income tax rate dropped by almost 40%, from 35% to 21%. And that cut is permanent, while the household rate cuts expire after 2025. The imbalance between household and corporate benefits is unpopular, with 62% of Americans saying it bothers them “a lot” that “some corporations don’t pay their fair share.” Even 42% of Republicans are bothered “a lot” about this.

Fourth, most Americans might doubt they benefited from the Trump tax reform because they believe the tax cuts are causing big deficits they will have to pay for sooner or later. Forbes contributor Chuck Jones showed the tax cuts were largely responsible for a 17% increase in the federal deficit last fiscal year. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that deficits will average 4.4% of GDP between now and 2029, much higher than the average 2.9% from the previous fifty years. And federal debt—growing every year with the deficits—will reach an estimated 93% of GDP by 2029 (as CBO notes, this would be “a larger amount than at any time since just after World War II.”)

Fifth, most Americans might think they didn’t benefit from the Trump tax cuts because the cuts aren’t just an economic issue—they are political. Pew Research found that the two parties increasingly disagree about whether taxes are fair—64% of Republicans think so, but only 32% of Democrats agree. That’s the biggest gap since Pew began asking this question over twenty years ago.

Democratic presidential candidates are reading the polling data and are attacking the tax cuts as unfair. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) wants to increase the estate tax. Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) is proposing revisions to benefit lower- and middle-income households. And Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) advocates a wealth tax on the super-rich. You know something is changing politically when a billionaire, in this case hedge fund manager Ray Dalio, says capitalism is unfair and the president should declare inequality a national emergency.

Bottom line: People aren’t feeling a benefit from the tax bill. And feelings matter in politics. Bill Clinton won the presidency with a theme of “It’s the economy, stupid,” while incumbent George H.W. Bush correctly noted (in vain) that the economic recession technically ended over a year before the 1992 election. But voters didn’t feel a recovery and voted to make a change. If the economy slows or stumbles, President Donald Trump may be vulnerable to similar voter feelings, even if most people technically got a small benefit from the tax bill.

This is a repost from Forbes. 
 
Photocredit: Getty

Photocredit: Getty


Like Halley’s Comet, the idea that people are faking disability claims reoccurs with regularity. The recurrence doesn't happen seasonally, but politically: Republicans are more likely to propose to cut disability benefits. In 2019, it is Democrats opposing the Trump Administration’s proposed Fiscal Year 2020 Budget, which targets people with disabilities. Sadly, Trump may feel he can manipulate latent prejudice against people with impairments. That approach would not only hurt people with disabilities; it would hurt the economy overall.

Cutting Benefits Is Bad Economic Policy

By cutting funding to programs that directly aid people with certain kinds of disabilities,* research the causes of disability,** and help the disabled be fully engaged citizens,*** we are missing a chance to engage a productive workforce. Simply put, it does not make economic sense to cut programs that help people with disabilities work, live in their own homes, get to their jobs, and access the opportunities that all Americans enjoy.

Unfortunately, the Trump Administration is proposing to take a system that is already inadequate and make it worse. Integrating working-age adults who are disabled is part of an economic strategy and the choice is stark: Do we have a society and suite of policies aimed towards engagement or warehousing? Currently, the U.S. leans too much toward the latter.

Comparative studies find employment rates of disabled workers are relatively high in Nordic countries. In Sweden and Denmark the disabled are much more likely to work because these nations with social-democratic systems more successfully integrate individuals with adverse health conditions.

In the U.S. and U.K., meanwhile, disabled workers are more often unemployed and otherwise excluded from the labor force, thanks to an excessive focus on the development of workfare programs that encourage labor force participation as the principle means of achieving equality. Indeed, the cost savings sought by the Trump Administration have to do with a proposal to “test new approaches to increase labor force participation.” This approach has resulted in a limited policy focus that fails to account for all the economic and cultural steps needed to ensure parity of participation of people with disabilities. Investments in active labor market policies may improve the employment of chronically ill people.

U.S. policy has provided little incentive for employers to economically engage disabled people. First, we do not have a cultural commitment to ensuring that workers with disabilities have the opportunity to work in the paid labor market; in fact, research suggests that accommodating people with disabilities is sometimes seen as unfair. Second, U.S. employers have little financial incentive to help disabled workers stay on the job, since the government does not coordinate employer actions with the employees’ particular needs. 

Research shows the obvious: bad health is one of the main determinants of early retirement. But depending on the policies of a nation, bad health does not necessarily constitute a barrier to labor force participation. Working depends foremost on the broader context of an economy and policies which can either promote or hinder the employment of workers who are not entirely healthy.

Misplaced Blame

Included in the proposed $72 billion in cuts to disability programs are reductions in Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Not only is this a betrayal of Trump's campaign promise, it hurts one of the most vulnerable groups in the country.

SSDI allows individuals under retirement age, after two years of demonstrated disability, to get disability benefits and Medicare. Since the disabled often quit their careers early, the benefits are quite low—the average is $1,234 per month. And despite perennial accusations of fakery from the right, the disabled are some of the most vulnerable in society. As a group they aren’t faking it—people on disability are three to six times more likely to die than people in their age group who are not on disability.

The U.S. has always had among the lowest levels of long term disability recipiency. It is quite difficult to get on SSDI—less than 4% of the working age population receives such benefits—though the rates have increased over the last thirty years. While opponents of disability benefits might see this as evidence of falling standards, the basic reason for the increase is that millions of women entered the workforce in previous generations, and thus became eligible to apply for disability.

Crucial to understanding the stubborn persistence of disability is to recognize that in determining disability, the SSDI program considers a number of factors in addition to a person’s health impairment, such as the level of accommodation offered in the workplace and the wages and working conditions of the jobs available. Disability means more than having difficulty with routine activities. Eligibility requires a worker be “unable to perform any substantial gainful activity on any job in the economy for at least one year.” The “substantial gainful activity” refers to any job that generates earnings of $1,180 per month for most people anywhere in the national economy.

The economic environment has a lot to do with whether a person applies for disability. Structural changes in the economy, including declining job and wage prospects for low-skilled workers, have made disability benefits more attractive, as the Economic Policy Institute has shown. This effect is difficult to quantify, however. It is much easier to get someone to stay in the labor market with their physical and mental disabilities than it is to get someone who has left back into the market. That is why programs that help the disabled stay engaged and be accommodated at work are important and practical.

What Is Next For the Disabled And Those at Risk of Disability?  

On April 2, Senators Bob Casey (D-Penn.) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) wrote to Trump’s budget director Mike Mulvaney stating their concern about the cuts and asking to restore the recommendations for funding. As the Senators wrote:

“You have proposed $84 billion in cuts, chiefly, to Social Security Disability Insurance. These are funds that support hard working Americans who have developed disabilities over the course of their lives. The workers who would be denied benefits under your cuts are people who have not only contributed to our economy over decades but have also paid into the Social Security Disability Insurance fund. Our government promised American workers that if they work, grow our economy and they develop a disability – we will take the funds they have contributed in their taxes to provide some care, relief, and dignity.”

Trump's cuts won’t help the disabled work. And in the end that is exactly what a sensible policy should do.

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* Examples include the Traumatic Brain Injury program, the Paralysis Resource Center, the Alzheimer’s Disease program, the Lifespan Respite Care program, the Autism Surveillance program, the Independent Living Centers, the Limb Loss Resource Center, Gallaudet University, and the state Council on Developmental Disabilities.

** Examples include the University Centers on Developmental Disabilities, the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research.

*** Examples include the Voting Access for People with Disabilities program, state Assistive Technology programs, the National Family Caregiver Support Program, the Native American Caregiver Support Services program, the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee, the Office of Disability Employment Policy, and Section 811 Housing for Persons with Disabilities.