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- Policy Reform Work
Our projects are designed to empower policy makers to create positive change. With a focus on collaboration and outreach, we provide original, standards-based research on key policy issues.
SCEPA joined with the Economic Policy Institute on Capitol Hill to brief congressional staff and policy experts on tax expenditures, or incentives given through the tax code without scrutiny by Congress.
SCEPA economists are working on the prospects for a more progressive economic order to emerge from the shock of the recession. They have published papers and documents that place current events in a longer-term context as well as policy proposals to deal with short-term concerns. They are also documenting the emerging discussion of how the discipline of economics is reacting to the Great Recession and the questioning of conventional economic analysis.
Lance Taylor, a SCEPA Faculty Fellow, presents an overview of his new book, Maynard’s Revenge, in a Google Tech Talk.
The book, published this November by Harvard University Press, is a timely analysis of mainstream macroeconomics, posing the need for a more useful and realistic economic analysis that can provide a better understanding of the ongoing global financial and economic crisis.
The government spends $143 billion through tax breaks in an effort to expand pension coverage and security. Yet, over half of the American workforce does not have a pension. Retirement insecurity hurts business plans, workers’ lives and retiree well-being. Reform is needed.
SCEPA’s Guaranteeing Retirement Income Project, sponsored by the Rockefeller Foundation and in collaboration with Demos and the Economic Policy Institute, has a plan to guarantee safe and secure retirement income for all Americans.
GRAs Would Supplement an Expanded Social Security
GRAs would not compete with or supplant Social Security. As social insurance against disability and poverty in old age, Social Security must be protected and expanded.
As I wrote in the Huffington Post, "The first step to solve the coming retirement crisis is to make Social Security solvent, without reducing benefits for lower- and middle-income persons....Instead of cutting benefits for these persons, we believe it would make more sense to expand the revenue available to finance Social Security. In our judgment, this represents a far better approach to improving retirement security for all Americans."
GRAs are individual accounts that would supplement Social Security. Social Security was not designed nor intended to provide an individual with all the income they would need in retirement. Rather, Social Security is considered one leg of a three-legged stool. The other legs are income from a retirement plan and personal savings. Over the last 40 years, traditional employer-provided defined benefit (DB) pensions have been displaced by defined contribution (DC) plans, including 401(k)s. Not only are 401(k)s ineffective retirement savings vehicles, they are only provided to half of American workers.
The result of this trajectory is a retirement crisis. Workers without retirement plan coverage cannot save enough for retirement. 401(k) participants are often little better off than those without any coverage, as evidenced by the numbers. Those nearing retirement, including those without access to plan, have a median retirement savings of $12,000.
GRAs are Designed Like Traditional Pensions to Lower Fees
GRAs are designed to mimic the best practices of traditional DB pensions. DBs provide workers with the benefits of pooled savings, low fees economies of scale, and lifelong income in retirement. These characteristics also allow DB plans to provide better investment returns than 401(k)s or IRAs.
The GRA doesn't obligate fund managers to invest in private equity. It merely allows the trustees, operating under the GRA's fiduciary requirements, the opportunity to invest in private equity if it benefits the participant. DB's have proven this to be true - that the inclusion of alternative asset classes has earned participants higher returns at lower risk.
GRAs would require that private investment managers compete against each other for the work, keeping fees as low as possible. Professional fund managers, including private equity funds, are in DB funds now. The issue is not whether they should be used, but whether or not they receive excessive compensation for poor returns. The GRA ensures that taxpayers and GRA contributors are not taken advantage of and get the best possible deal. This is done through transparent governance, pooled accounts and competition – three hallmarks of DB plans.
SCEPA Director Teresa Ghilarducci was named to 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. Ghilarducci sits 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” according to Ghilarducci. “We at SCEPA 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. Ghilarducci proposes 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.
Aleksandr Gevorkyan, assistant professor of economics at St. John’s University and New School PhD graduate, and New School economics student Ingrid Harvold Kvangraven published an article in the Review of Development Economics, “Assessing Recent Determinants of Borrowing Costs in Sub-Saharan Africa.”
The article describes how, over the past decade, Sub-Saharan African countries’ ability to draw on new debt in international capital markets has become a central characteristic of their development experience. Yet, the determinants of the borrowing costs are driven by external factors where investor perception plays a key role. This raises concerns over the sustainability of the current development model.
Unfortunately, there is little to be done in the short run. Dealing with Sub-Saharan countries’ recurring debt crises will require “tackling the debt problem at its root.” Since that includes their lack of a diversified economic structure and subsequent lack of competitiveness on the international market, that’s no small task.