- On Capitol Hill
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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.
SCEPA’s Retirement Equity Lab (ReLab) released three new policy briefs, funded by the National Endowment for Financial Education (NEFE), documenting the systemic failure of the current retirement savings system, even for those who use it as intended.
- 401(k) Plans: A Failed Experiment
The financial wealth of individuals who participate in a 401(k) plan and are nearing retirement age (55 to 64) falls far short of the levels necessary to maintain their standard of living in retirement. This is true for households at all income levels.
- Household Economic Shocks Increase Retirement Wealth Inequality
Low-income households are both more likely to experience shocks - such as job loss or ill-health - and also more likely to make early withdrawals from their retirement accounts in response. As a result, pre-retirement withdrawals exacerbate retirement inequality by increasing the likelihood that low-income workers will not have adequate income in retirement. Read Money Magazine’s coverage of this paper by Dan Kadlec, “How to Overcome ‘Income Shocks’ that Wreck Retirement Security.”
- Policies to Reduce Retirement Plan Leakages
If households are permitted to use retirement savings to buffer pre-retirement shocks, the system will fail to achieve its goal of financing post-retirement consumption. But in a voluntary system, a prohibition on pre-retirement withdrawals may discourage participation. A prohibition on pre-retirement withdrawals should therefore be accompanied by a contribution mandate.
Taken together, these briefs identify the need for a change in retirement policy. The Guaranteed Retirement Account (GRA) is an example of a comprehensive policy proposal that is both mandatory and prohibits pre-retirement withdrawals. This plan would create federal retirement accounts that guarantee principal and an annual rate of return and provide annuities as an add on to Social Security.
The unemployment rate for older workers was 3.5% in June, increasing by 0.1 percentage points from May. The wage growth in June for older workers is not released today. According to conventional economic theory, a low headline unemployment rate is associated with rising wages. But unlike prior economic recoveries, older workers’ earnings stagnated in the five years after the Great Recession.
Between 2010 and 2015, workers over 55 with full-time jobs experienced a decline in median real weekly earnings (-0.8%). In prior recoveries, older workers experienced high earnings growth. In the five years after the 2001 recession, earnings grew 2.3%, 1.0% in the five years after 1991, and 5.9% after the 1982 recession.
Wage stagnation can indicate a weak labor market and low bargaining power, even when headline unemployment is low. And while it affects all workers in today’s labor market, stagnation especially harms older workers.
The average household approaching retirement has retirement savings of only $150,000. In retirement, this sum will only provide $500 a month in income - far short of what’s needed to maintain retirees’ standard of living. However, near retirees' need to prioritize savings is hamstrung by stagnant wages, forcing them to choose between cutting pre-retirement consumption or arriving at retirement with insufficient savings.
America faces a retirement crisis brought on by poorly designed retirement plans and compounded by wage stagnation. Cutting Social Security benefits by raising the retirement age would further erode retirement security. Americans need a reliable way to save for retirement in addition to Social Security. Guaranteed Retirement Accounts (GRAs) open a path to retirement security by providing all workers retirement savings plans with guaranteed growth.
On June 15, 2016, Tony Webb, director of research at SCEPA's Retirement Equity Lab (ReLab), presented a SCEPA report on Philadelphia's retirement crisis before the Philadelphia City Council Committee on Labor and Civil Service. The report, "Are Philadelphians Ready for Retirement?," was done on behalf of Philadelphia City Councilwoman Cherelle L. Parker and the City Council of Philadelphia. Following the hearing, Councilwoman Parker announced plans to introduce a resolution calling for the creation of a task force to address retirement security for private-sector workers in the city.
Workers across the country face a retirement crisis. However, workers in Philadelphia are faring worse than average.
- Philadelphia’s senior citizens are more likely than senior citizens nationally to rely on Social Security for more than 90% of their retirement income.
- Only 48 percent (less than half) of all Philadelphia workers ages 25-64 had access to an employersponsored retirement savings plan, compared with 53 percent of workers nationwide.
- Only 37 percent of Philadelphia’s workers ages 25-64 participated in an employer-sponsored retirement plan, compared with 45 percent nationwide.
- The median near-retirement household in the state’s metropolitan areas had enough financial assets to generate at most $550 a month in retirement income.