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2009 Discussion Archive

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Strengthening Social Security Wage Reporting For Farm Workers

Barbara Robles
Associate Professor, School of Social Work, Arizona State University

Farm workers are at risk of not having their work count toward Social Security benefits because their employers may erroneously classify them as independent contractors or simply fail to pay Social Security taxes and report wages. Strengthening Social Security for Farm Workers: The Fragile Retirement Prospects for Hispanic Farm Worker Families supports legislation introduced in the 110th Congress, along with stronger enforcement of existing laws, to strengthen wage reporting. The proposal also notes that the changes would increase tax receipts and benefit the Latino farm worker population by increasing their Social Security benefits, providing better access to the Earned Income Tax Credit, and easing the burden on adult children of farm workers who have the triple burden of school debt, raising children and supporting aging parents.

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Monday, April 20, 2009

Increasing Social Security Benefits for Low-Wage Single Retirees

Patricia E. Dilley
Professor of Law, University of Florida Levin College of Law

Single retirees (that is, never married, divorced or widowed) are at high risk of being poor in old age. The decline in private pensions, rising out-of-pocket health costs, and declining housing values can be expected to make the already precarious financial situation of unmarried retirees even worse. Restoring Old Age Income Security to Low-Wage Single Workers proposes a change to the basic Social Security retired-worker benefit formula that would increase benefits for single retirees with at least 30 years of covered employment and low lifetime earnings. A second change would target single beneficiaries over age 85. Those who had at least 30 years of covered work, and received relatively low benefits (less than 75 percent of the average benefit), would receive a 10 percent benefit increase at age 85.

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Friday, April 17, 2009

A New Social Security Minimum Benefit For Low Lifetime Earners

Melissa Favreault
Senior Research Associate, The Urban Institute

Despite a lifetime of hard work, many workers end up poor or near poor in retirement. A New Minimum Benefit for Low Lifetime Earners examines a new minimum benefit that targets workers with long careers and low lifetime earnings, along with a modest credit that compensates for up to three years of low (or no) earnings due to care giving, unemployment, or poor health. The benefit at the full retirement age would pay 60 percent of the poverty threshold for a worker with 20 years of Social Security covered work and increase to 110 percent of the poverty threshold for a worker with 40 years of work. Caregiver credits would be available only in years when a child is under age 4 and only to one parent. The credit would be 60 percent of the average wage in the first such year, 50 percent in the second year and 40 percent in the third year.

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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Why Do We Call Taxes a `Burden'?

Rashi Fein

This 1996 op-ed, originally published in The Washington Post, is as timely as ever.

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I learn a lot watching C-SPAN. The other night, one of Washington's leading economists was asked about using the tax system to help reduce environmental damage. The response? It certainly would be difficult, because it would increase the `tax burden.'

`Tax burden' is a phrase with which we are all so familiar that we don't stop to think what it means--nor what it implies. At first blush it seems value-free. But plainly a `burden' is something to be lifted. We don't refer to the monies we spend on movies, popcorn, milk or shoes as `burdens.' We refer to them--and think of them--as expenditures, some (movies and popcorn) optional, others (food, shoes) necessary. We don't speak of our `consumption burden.' Why, then, a `tax burden'?

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Posted on April 15, 2009  |  2 comments  |  Add your comment
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Monday, April 13, 2009

Improving Benefits for Widowed Spouses of Low-Earning Couples

Joan Entmacher
Vice President for Family Economic Security, National Women’s Law Center

Social Security is especially important to older women, particularly widows. Most poor elderly women are widows. Social Security survivor benefits help to bridge the transition to widowhood, but the benefits are less adequate when both the husband and wife had worked at low pay. Strengthening Social Security Benefits for Widow(er) s: The 75 Percent Combined Worker Benefit Alternative proposes to increase benefits for widowed spouses of low-earning dual-earner couples. The new widowed-spouse benefit would be 75 percent of the combined retired-worker benefits of the husband and the wife, but would be capped to not exceed the benefit for one person who had earned the average wage over a career.
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Posted on April 13, 2009  |  3 comments  |  Add your comment
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Friday, April 10, 2009

Increasing Social Security Benefits at Advanced Ages

John Turner
Director, Pension Policy Center

People who live into their 80s and 90s face a growing risk of becoming poor. They rely more and more on Social Security because their other sources of income decline as they age: private pensions, if received, are eroded by inflation; income from work is very rarely an option; and financial assets may have been spent. Longevity Insurance, Strengthening Social Security at Advanced Ages proposes increasing benefits at age 82 (about the average life expectancy at age 65) for beneficiaries with low Social Security benefits and long work histories. This longevity insurance would improve financial security for individuals who live longer than the average life span.
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Posted on April 10, 2009  |  Write the first comment
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Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Easing the Impact of Increasing the Retirement Age: Occupational Disability

Eric Klieber
Director, Retirement Actuary, Buck Consultants

Legislation in 1983 increased from 65 to 67 the age at which Social Security pays full retirement benefits. The change lowers retirement benefits at each age they are claimed. Disabled-worker benefits remain unreduced, but are not available to individuals who fail to meet a strict test – “inability to engage in any gainful activity” – yet are unable to continue in their jobs. Strengthening Social Security for Workers in Physically Demanding Occupations proposes a benefit for such individuals based on an occupational disability test – “inability to perform the essential duties of one’s current occupation.” Making such an occupational disability benefit available at age 62 could protect recipients from retired-worker benefit reductions (or part of such reductions) due to increasing the full benefit age.

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Posted on April 8, 2009  |  Write the first comment
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Monday, April 6, 2009

Increasing Social Security Benefits for Family Elder Caregivers

Shelley White-Means
Professor of Health Economics, University of Tennessee Health Science Center

Rose Rubin
Professor, Department of Economics, University of Memphis

Informal care provided by family members improves quality of life for frail elders, allows them to remain in the community instead of in nursing homes, and saves Medicaid dollars. Providing the care also imposes opportunity costs on caregivers that weaken their own retirement security. Retirement Security for Family Elder Care Givers with Labor Force Employment proposes to provide up to four years of Social Security credit to individuals who provide care to elders. The elders must be certified to need levels of care that would qualify for Medicaid coverage. The value of the credit would be the caregiver’s average wage in the three years before care giving interrupted earnings. The authors suggest the credit could be financed based on the reduction in public spending for nursing home care.

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Posted on April 6, 2009  |  Write the first comment
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Friday, April 3, 2009

Helping Homeless Individuals with Serious Mental Illness Get Disability Benefits

Yvonne Perret
Executive Director, Advocacy and Training Center

Deborah Dennis
Vice President, Policy Research Associates, Inc

Margaret Lassiter
Senior Project Associate, Policy Research Associates, Inc

Social Security and SSI disability benefits are often the main sources of stable income for people who have serious mental illness. Individuals who are homeless face particular barriers in navigating the application process. They typically lack a mailing address, transportation, and a treatment history from accepted medical sources (physicians or licensed psychologists).

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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Increasing the Social Security Special Minimum Benefit and Updating SSI

Laura Sullivan
Research Assistant, Institute on Assets and Social Policy, Brandeis University

Tatjana Meschede
Research Director, Institute on Assets and Social Policy, Brandeis University

Thomas M. Shapiro
Director, Institute on Assets and Social Policy, Brandeis University

A special minimum benefit was added to the Social Security program in 1974, but few receive it today because it does not keep up with wage growth. Enhancing Social Security for Low-Income Workers: Coordinating an Enhanced Minimum Benefit with Social Safety Net Provisions for Seniors examines ways to update the special minimum benefit so that individuals with 30 years of work covered by Social Security would receive benefits that meet the updated poverty measure of the National Academy of Sciences, which is about 125 percent of the current official poverty threshold. It also proposes to update SSI to reflect inflation since the program began – that is, increase the asset limit for individuals from $2,000 to $6,700 and increase the general income exclusion from $20 to $89.

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Posted on March 31, 2009  |  1 comment  |  Add your comment
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Friday, March 27, 2009

A Social Security Supplement for Low-Income Working Parents

Pamela Herd
Assistant Professor of Public Affairs and Sociology, La Follette School of Public Affairs, University of Wisconsin

Social Security provides benefits for spouses and widowed spouses, but does not provide credit for raising children. A growing portion of retiring women will not qualify for spousal benefits because they are divorced (with less than 10 years of marriage) or never married, yet will have earnings records that are limited because of time spent caring for their children. Crediting Care in Social Security: A Proposal for an Income-Tested Care Supplement proposes to supplement Social Security benefits for retirees who have raised one or more children. The supplement would be an additional 75 percent of the worker’s benefit (80 percent if two or more children were raised) but would be capped to not push the retiree’s household income above 125 percent of the poverty threshold.

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Posted on March 27, 2009  |  Write the first comment
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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Reducing Eligibility Requirements for Retirement Benefits

Andrew Biggs
Resident Scholar, American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research

To qualify for Social Security retired-worker benefits, individuals must have worked at least 40 calendar quarters (ten years) in jobs covered by Social Security. The Effects of Reducing Eligibility Requirements for Social Security Retirement Benefits examines the impact of eliminating the 40-quarters eligibility requirement. A small group of individuals (about 6 percent of those born in 1950) would gain eligibility for Social Security retired-worker benefits. The increases in benefits would often substitute for means-tested SSI benefits. Much of the new benefits would flow to immigrants who are not otherwise eligible for Social Security.

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Posted on March 25, 2009  |  Write the first comment
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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Protecting Social Security Benefits from Garnishment

John Infranca
Judicial Clerk, The Honorable Berle M. Schiller, Federal Judiciary, Eastern District of Pennsylvania

Because Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits are essential to meet basic needs, the Social Security Act protects the benefits from garnishment or attachment by creditors. Nevertheless, when benefits are deposited in a bank account, beneficiaries may find that their accounts have been temporarily frozen, or worse, permanently garnished at the behest of a creditor under provisions of state law. Because the government encourages direct deposit, over 80 percent of Social Security and SSI recipients receive their benefits electronically. Read More…
Posted on March 24, 2009  |  1 comment  |  Add your comment
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Monday, March 9, 2009

Correcting David Broder on Social Security

Tom Bethell

Dear Mr. Broder,

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Posted on March 9, 2009  |  Write the first comment
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Friday, March 6, 2009

Social Security is Shovel-Ready

Robert Hudson
Professor and Chair, Department of Social Welfare Policy, Boston University

There can be no question that the current economic crisis is emerging as the most dire that we have seen since the 1930s. And, in terms of both employment opportunities and retirement savings, it seems certain to hit older Americans as hard as it will everyone else. Looking for any silver lining in this situation, one finally occurs to me. In recent years, pressures on age-related programs have built as "the scope of conflict" around aging policy has expanded, meaning that programs that were once politically insulated are now under scrutiny and attack from those who see entitlement spending for older adults leading us toward fiscal doom.

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