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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.
In two recent articles, the Governing Institute cites work by SCEPA Director Teresa Ghilarducci in bringing attention to the looming pension crisis for workers in the U.S. On June 14, 201 in the article "America's Looming Pension Shock," Governing's Director Mark Funkhouser discusses the effects of decreasing public pensions for workers as they reach retirement. He writes, "but Teresa Ghilarducci, director of the Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis at the New School in New York City and author of "When I'm Sixty-Four: the Plot against Pensions and the Plan to Save Them," would tell these government leaders that cuts in government workers' pension benefits are contributing to another impending crisis that they should begin to think about." He continues by bringing attention to Ghilarducci's Guaranteed Retirement Accounts plan as a potential solution.
On June 28, 2012 in "The Very Public Private-Sector Retirement Problem," Governing's Penelope Lemov continues the discussion by writing about the inadequacy of 401(k) plans in providing a secure retirement income in the face of pension shortfalls and potential state-level solutions to address the crisis. She draws attention to recent legislation in California introduced by Senator de Leon that would allow workers without work-based retirement accounts, like a traditional defined benefit pension or a defined contribution 401(k), to automatically be included in a state-run plan. The plan has already been approved by the California State Senate, and if it passes through the State Assembly, SCEPA Director Teresa Ghilarducci predicts, "a handful of states will follow suit quickly." Lemov cites Ghilarducci in noting that New York, Massachusetts and Connecticut are already considering similar plans.
New SCEPA research documents that, despite the growing tax breaks and intensive advertising campaigns for 401(k) and IRA retirement accounts, Americans nearing retirement are more likely than previously expected to experience downward mobility in their golden years. Specifically, people ages 50 to 64 - 59 million in 2011 - will likely not have enough retirement assets to maintain their standard of living when they reach their mid-sixties.
Using data from the U.S. Census Bureau's Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP), SCEPA's new Fact Sheet, Near Retirees' Defined Contribution Retirement Account Balances, is the first to provide a breakdown of defined contribution (DC) retirement account balances by income.
Three quarters of near retirees (ages 50 to 64) have annual incomes below $52,536, with an average total retirement account balance of $27,636. When stretched out into an annuity over an average retirement lifetime, this sum does not provide a significant addition to a monthly Social Security benefit (see Table 1.) Further, the median value of retirement account balances for half of near retirees is zero, meaning that over half of this group has no retirement savings.
Individuals with incomes over $52,536 per year have more in their retirement accounts, but their balances are not high. Their average retirement account balance for this income group is $109,752. Because only a few people have very high balances, the median balance is much lower; 50 percent of people ages 50-64 in the top 25 percent of the income distribution have retirement account balances of only $55,000.
The numbers are lower than previous estimates based on the data set. Previous estimates rely on the Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF), which aims to measure the net assets of U.S. families by over-sampling people likely to be wealthy to provide more precise estimates of wealth. This includes assets that only the wealthy own, such as municipal bonds and business assets. In contrast, the SIPP allows researchers to conduct analyses of government programs for the low-income population, over-sampling the low-income population. Since the two data sets focus on different groups of people, SIPP estimates of retirement wealth differ from estimates based on SCF data and more accurately represent the American population.
In a report published on May 29, 2012, Demos, a nonprofit advocacy group and SCEPA partner on retirement security, published a report "The Retirement Savings Drain: Hidden and Excessive Costs of 401(k)s." The report, written by Policy Analyst and New School PhD student Robbie Hiltonsmith, reveals the excessively high fees and costs associated with 401(k) retirement plans that are hidden from plan holders. Hiltonsmith finds that the average two-member household will lose over $150,000 over their lifetime from their retirement savings to pay these fees - without their knowledge. More than 40 media sources and columns have covered the report, including an exclusive with Consumer Reports and pieces in Reuters and the New York Post, among others. The media coverage has hinted toward other possibilities for retirement income security such as Guaranteed Retirement Accounts (GRAs). "What we need is a low cost set-it-and forget-it option," Hiltonsmith says. "You get your four percent return, the balances don't go up and down like a yo-yo and at retirement you get all or part of it as an annuity."
On June 20, 2012, Hiltonsmith appeared on Fox Business Network's Willis Report to discuss the dangers of hidden 401(k) fees. He says, "someone's going to be retiring off these 401ks but it's not going to be the ones saving."