- On Capitol Hill
- On Wall Street
- In the Press
- 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.
It’s well known that the causes of the crash of 2008 and the subsequent Great Recession were a housing bubble and a financial crisis. But what were the long-term trends that brought the American economy to the edge of the cliff?
In the November 24th seminar hosted by SCEPA and The New School Economics Department, UCLA Professor of Urban Planning Matthew Drennan named income inequality as the decisive factor behind the crisis. In a talk based on his recently released book, “Income Inequality: Why it Matters and Why Most Economists Didn’t Notice,” Drennan argued that growing inequality directed income gains to the top sliver of the income distribution, leaving middle-class workers experiencing stagnant or falling incomes. To keep up with consumption, these households took on unsustainable debt, often leveraged through home equity. As we know, the collapse of the housing market then caused indebted households to default at unprecedented rates, setting off a massive global financial crisis.
Drennan focused on the average propensity to consume (APC), an economic statistic that measures the ratio of total consumption to total income. When the APC rises, workers are either saving less or going into debt. Many mid-twentieth century economists had predicted that the APC would remain constant. Instead it rose quickly, as income gains accrued mostly to the wealthy, and middle- and low-income earners spent more of their take-home pay to keep up. For Drennan, this was because stagnant or falling wages forced most Americans to reduce savings rates or take on the unsustainable debt that was the root cause of the financial crisis.
On November 21, 2015, Institutional Investor published Mark Henricks’ review of SCEPA Director Teresa Ghilarducci’s new book, “How to Retire with Enough Money and How to Know What Enough Is” (available December 15th). He describes the book as a basic guide to retirement security for low- and middle-income earners, containing the standard prescriptions (save early, save often, and delay taking Social Security until you’re 70) while offering much more.
Specifically, Henrick calls Ghilarducci’s Guaranteed Retirement Account (GRA) proposal her “primary intellectual contribution to retirement planning.” GRAs are nationwide mandatory savings plans to which workers and their employers would split a contribution of at least 5% of their income. Funds would be pooled and invested in low-cost index funds, managed by the federal government.
GRAs are the solution to what Henricks identifies as the big takeaway from the book: the failure of the “do-it-yourself” retirement savings experiment of the past 35 years. When people are left to rely on employer-sponsored retirement accounts - to which only half the workforce has access - they don’t save enough. Most Americans over age 50 have less than $30,000 in their retirement accounts. This trajectory leaves half of Americans with a food budget under $5/day in retirement.
Ordinary savers aren’t to blame, given the one-two punch of wage stagnation coupled with the complexity of long-term planning in the 401(k) system. Rather, the lack of retirement savings is a systemic failure with a simple and straightforward policy solution: GRAs.
SCEPA Director Teresa Ghilarducci and Christian Weller from the Center for American Progress (CAP) are working to address the retirement crisis by improving the federal government’s system of retirement savings incentives. On October 30th, they published a paper on The Inefficiencies of Existing Retirement Savings Incentives and hosted an event with academic and political experts to discuss the issue in depth. On November 18th, they released a second paper on Laying the Groundwork For More Efficient Retirement Savings Incentives that contains proposals for reform.
Ghilarducci and Weller’s research concludes that the federal government’s current policy to encourage retirement savings through the tax code is both inequitable and inefficient. The wealthy have higher marginal tax rates and therefore benefit more from tax deductions than the poor and middle class. Furthermore, research has shown that wealthy households would save anyways and tax deductions merely encourage them to shift their savings into retirement accounts to lower their tax bill.
The authors suggests five policy reforms to make the federal government’s retirement savings incentives more fair and effective:
- Make the Saver’s Credit fully available to lower-income households
- Establish and expand progressive savings matches
- Simplify retirement savings incentives by streamlining rules
- Limit the automatic increases of tax deductions
- Create simple, low-cost, and low-risk options for people to save for retirement outside of employer plans