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Retirement and Older Americans

Retired CoupleOur extensive work on retirement policy covers the many ways the aging of America will trigger changes in how we work, retire, and spend federal resources.

The number of Americans age 65 and over will rise from about 13 percent in 2008 to 20 percent by 2040. The recession dealt a heavy blow to retirement accounts, leaving many older adults worried about their retirement security. Read more.

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How Will State and County Government Employees Fare under Kentucky's New Cash Balance Pension Plan? (Research Report)
Richard W. Johnson, Benjamin G. Southgate

Kentucky recently replaced its traditional pension with a new cash balance plan for state and county employees hired after 2013. Employees who join the government payroll at relatively young ages and remain for no more than 25 years will accumulate more benefits in the cash balance plan than the traditional plan, while many of those with more years of service and hired at older ages will accumulate less. More than half of employees hired in 2014 who complete at least five years of service will fare better in the cash balance plan, which distributes benefits more evenly across the workforce.

Posted to Web: April 30, 2014Publication Date: April 30, 2014

When Do State and Local Pension Plans Encourage Workers to Retire? (Research Brief)
Richard W. Johnson, Barbara Butrica, Owen Haaga, Benjamin G. Southgate

Traditional defined benefit pension plans that cover nearly all state and local government employees generally penalize work at older ages. In more than three-fifths of state-administered plans, employees hired at age 25 will receive lower lifetime pension benefits if they continue working after age 57 because retirement-eligible workers cannot receive benefit checks while they remain on the job. This reduction in benefits can create strong retirement incentives, which are hard to justify as the population ages and health gains and declines in physical work enable more older people to work. Well-designed public pension reforms could eliminate these work disincentives.

Posted to Web: April 30, 2014Publication Date: April 30, 2014

How Long Must State and Local Employees Work to Accumulate Pension Benefits? (Research Brief)
Richard W. Johnson, Barbara Butrica, Owen Haaga, Benjamin G. Southgate

Traditional defined benefit pension plans that cover nearly all state and local government employees generally provide generous retirement benefits to long-tenured public servants but little retirement security to those with shorter tenures. Virtually every plan requires employee contributions. In half of those plans, employees must work at least 20 years before their future benefits are worth more than those contributions. Employees who separate earlier get nothing from their plan. Alternative designs like cash balance plans distribute benefits more equally across the workforce and allow employees who spend less than a full career in public service to accumulate retirement benefits.

Posted to Web: April 30, 2014Publication Date: April 30, 2014

Do State and Local Pensions Lock In Mid-Career Employees? (Research Brief)
Richard W. Johnson, Barbara Butrica, Owen Haaga, Benjamin G. Southgate

State and local pension plans often allow employees who have completed 25 or 30 years of service to collect benefits regardless of their age, instead of waiting until they reach their plan’s normal retirement age. The lifetime value of their pension surges when they qualify for early benefits. Our analysis shows that on average, half the benefits employees have accumulated by their early 50s or late 40s are earned from a single year of work. These patterns create strong incentives for mid-career workers to remain on the payroll until they realize these windfalls, including those ill-suited for their jobs.

Posted to Web: April 30, 2014Publication Date: April 30, 2014

For Many State and Local Workers Public Pensions Offer Little Retirement Security, Urban Institute Study Shows (Press Release)
Urban Institute

That shiny retirement nest egg may not be so golden for the nation’s 19 million state and local government workers, an exhaustive Urban Institute analysis of 660 state-administered pension plans shows.

Posted to Web: April 30, 2014Publication Date: April 30, 2014

Capitol Hill Economist and Data Visualization Expert Jonathan Schwabish to Join Urban Institute (Press Release)
Urban Institute

Jonathan Schwabish, an economist with the Congressional Budget Office, will join the Urban Institute on May 7 as a senior researcher and data visualization expert. A leading voice calling for clarity and accessibility in research, Schwabish will boost the Institute's capabilities in data visualization and conduct research on older workers, people with disabilities, food security, immigration policy, and microsimulation modeling at Urban's Income and Benefits Policy Center.

Posted to Web: April 21, 2014Publication Date: April 21, 2014

Raising Medicare Premiums for Higher-Income Beneficiaries: Assessing the Implications (Policy Briefs)
Juliette Cubanski, Tricia Neuman, Gretchen Jacobson, Karen E. Smith

As policymakers consider ways to slow the growth in Medicare spending as part of broader efforts to reduce the federal debt or offset the cost of other spending priorities, some have proposed to increase beneficiary contributions through higher Medicare premiums. Some proposals would increase Medicare premiums paid by all beneficiaries, while others would raise premiums only for beneficiaries with higher incomes. This issue brief explains provisions of current law that impose income-related premiums under Medicare Part B and Part D, describes recent proposals to modify these requirements, and analyzes the potential implications for the Medicare population.

Posted to Web: February 28, 2014Publication Date: January 15, 2014

Income and Assets of Medicare Beneficiaries, 2013 - 2030 (Policy Briefs)
Gretchen Jacobson, Jennifer Huang, Tricia Neuman, Karen E. Smith

Many Medicare beneficiaries live on fixed incomes supplemented by the savings they accumulated during their working years. Their income and savings are tied to many life experiences, including their education, health status, marital status, number of work years, household income, access to employer retirement benefits, inheritance, and various economic factors. As a result, the income and assets of Medicare beneficiaries vary greatly. This brief describes the income and assets of Medicare beneficiaries now and in the future and provides context for understanding the extent to which current and future generations of beneficiaries can afford to absorb higher health care costs.

Posted to Web: February 28, 2014Publication Date: January 09, 2014

Labor Force Statistics on Older Americans, Third Quarter 2013 (Research Report)
Richard W. Johnson, Benjamin G. Southgate

This data brief reports quarterly labor force statistics for older Americans, a growing segment of the workforce. It reports labor force participation rates, unemployment rates, employment-to-population ratios, and the share of unemployed workers who have been out of work for more than six months, and compares outcomes to earlier years. Labor market outcomes did not improve much for older or younger workers in the third quarter of 2013. Older workers continue to fare better than their younger counterparts, although older unemployed adults take longer to find work.

Posted to Web: January 24, 2014Publication Date: December 20, 2013

Behavioral Adaptation and Late-Life Disability: A New Spectrum for Assessing Public Health Impacts (Article)
Brenda Spillman, Additional Authors

Only about a third of Americans ages 65 and older are fully able to manage all daily activities independently, according to new research from the 2011 National Health and Aging Trends Study (NHATS). Another 30 percent are able to accommodate declining health or functioning by using assistive devices or scaling back their activities, 18 percent have trouble managing even with any devices they may use, and 21 percent receive help. These findings are based on innovative data NHATS collected for a nationally representative sample of 8,077 older Medicare beneficiaries. The data allow a more nuanced look at late life function than previously has been possible and can contribute to better understanding of ways older adults adapt to disability and to development of public health policies to maximize the quality of life for older Americans.

Posted to Web: December 16, 2013Publication Date: December 12, 2013

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