The Retirement and Disability Research Consortium (RDRC) was established by the U.S. Social Security Administration in 2018. The CRR receives support under the RDRC to conduct and disseminate research along with its partner organizations: Mathematica – Center for Studying Disability Policy, Syracuse University, the Urban Institute, and the Brookings Institution.
Other organizations funded through the RDRC include:
- Michigan Retirement and Disability Research Center
- NBER Retirement and Disability Research Center
- University of Wisconsin-Madison Center for Financial Security
Read more about the Consortium’s evolution and research contributions: Social Security Bulletin 69(4); and Social Security Bulletin 80(1).
Learn more about the Consortium’s funding opportunities.
The Annual Meeting was held virtually on August 4-5, 2022.
1. “Who Pays the Employer Share of the Payroll Tax?”
by Laura Quinby and Gal Wettstein, Boston College
Many proposals to address the long-run solvency of Social Security suggest increasing the payroll tax. Economic analyses of these proposals typically assume that workers pay both the employee and the employer share through lower wages. However, the true incidence of the payroll tax is unclear. If workers adjust their labor supply in response to lower wages, tax increases – regardless of whether they are levied on workers or employers – burden both groups, reduce employment, and lead to less revenue than anticipated. This project will help estimate how much of the tax is passed to workers through lower wages, and whether employment declines, impacting revenue raised.
2. “How Do the Disadvantaged Assess their Claiming Experience?”
by Jean-Pierre Aubry, Boston College
Retiring baby boomers are increasing the demand for SSA services at a time when budget constraints and retiring staff are limiting the agency’s capacity to deliver them. Online services offer a way to meet increased demand with fewer resources. However, recent CRR research suggests that 65 percent of retirees contact SSA in person or by phone at some point during the claiming process; and non-White individuals are more likely to do so. As such, Social Security has an interest in better understanding the claiming experience of retirees who are non-White or from other underserved communities to inform policies that promote more equitable and cost-effective service delivery.
3. “What Factors Explain the Decline in DI Awards from 2010 to 2020?”
by Laura Quinby and Siyan Liu, Boston College
Since 2015, the DI rolls have steadily declined due to a steep drop in the incidence rate. While the forces behind this drop are still unclear, potential reasons include: 1) the labor market expansion that followed the Great Recession; 2) an industry shift from manual labor toward services; 3) the retirement of the Baby Boomers; and 4) policy, namely the retraining of Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) and field office closures.
4. “How Can Social Security Children’s Benefits Help Grandparents Raising Grandchildren?”
by Siyan Liu and Laura Quinby, Boston College
In 2020, around two million grandparents were responsible for the basic needs of their grandchildren, with grandparent care concentrated in historically disadvantaged communities. Despite being particularly vulnerable to financial insecurity, most grandparents receive little formal support because they take responsibility for their grandchildren outside of the foster care system. Without legal custody, grandparents are often ineligible for state and federal programs such as subsidies for foster parents, housing assistance, and – importantly – Social Security dependent child benefits.
5. “Why Do Late Boomers Have So Little Wealth and How Will Early Gen Xers Fare?”
by Anqi Chen, Alicia H. Munnell, and Laura Quinby, Boston College
Recent decades have seen a shift from defined benefit (DB) pensions to defined contribution (DC) plans, a rise in Social Security’s Full Retirement Age (FRA), and a drop in house values during the Great Recession. Hence, while younger cohorts were expected to reach retirement with less wealth from pensions, Social Security, and housing, increasing DC balances were predicted to offset the gap. However, the numbers for the most recent cohort in the Health and Retirement Study (HRS) – the Late Boomers – show not only the expected declines but also an unexpected drop in 401(k)/IRA assets for all but the top wealth quintile.
6. “How Did Suspending In-Person Services Affect DI and SSI Applications and Allowances?”
by Michael Anderson, Monica Farid, and Gina Freeman, Mathematica and Chris Earles, U.S. Social Security Administration
This project will study the causal impacts of suspending in-person applications to DI and SSI during the COVID pandemic on the volume of applications, composition of applicants, and initial acceptance rates. We will first document the characteristics of 2019-2021 DI and SSI applicants by mode of application and the association between application mode and likelihood of initial acceptance. Then we will use difference-in-differences methods to compare areas with high field office coverage to those with low field office coverage (which are less affected by office service suspensions) pre- and post-March 2020. This approach will allow us to isolate the impacts of suspending in-person services at SSA field offices from other aspects of the pandemic. Our results will inform SSA’s understanding of the effects of in-person service suspensions and whether certain populations’ access to services was impacted more than others.
7. “How Do Continuing Disability Reviews Affect Child SSI Recipients?”
by Michael Levere and David Wittenburg, Mathematica and Jeffrey Hemmeter, U.S. Social Security Administration
This project will assess the ways that recent increases in continuing disability reviews (CDRs) affect benefit receipt and earnings outcomes of child SSI recipients. It will use benefits data from the Supplemental Security Record (SSR) together with earnings data from the Master Earnings File (MEF). The results will provide insight into how SSA’s recent program integrity efforts have influenced program dynamics and children’s well-being.
8. “How Has COVID Affected the Experiences and Behaviors of People with Disabilities?”
by Amal Harrati and Marisa Shenk, Mathematica
This project will examine high-frequency patterns of the experiences with, behaviors during, and attitudes about COVID among people with disabilities since the pandemic began, using monthly data from the Understanding America Study’s (UAS) COVID Longitudinal Study. The results of this work will inform SSA’s understanding of how the work-related and benefits-related impacts of the pandemic have evolved over time for people with disabilities, and shed light on the potential future demand for SSA programs.
9. “Has Access to Vocational Rehabilitation Services Improved Outcomes for SSI Youth?”
by Todd Honeycutt and Isabel Musse, Mathematica and Jeffrey Hemmeter, U.S. Social Security Administration
This project will examine how the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act of 2014 (WIOA) affected vocational rehabilitation (VR) services, use of SSA work incentives, and earnings outcomes for youth ages 14-24 receiving SSI. We will use data from SSA and the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) to examine outcomes of youth across states. Findings will provide SSA and other policymakers interested in youth transition with evidence on whether increased exposure to VR services during high school affected key transition incomes in ways that could result in decreased reliance on SSI in young adulthood.
10. “How Can Changes to Social Security Benefits Promote Racial Equity?”
by Richard Johnson and Karen Smith, Urban Institute
Black workers and other people of color often face racism and other challenges in the labor market that limit their earnings and reduce future OASI and DI benefits. Changing the benefit structure for Social Security could offset some of these disadvantages and increase program benefits received by people of color, promoting overall financial security for older adults and people with disabilities. However, the details of each reform option will shape its effectiveness and help determine how well it targets additional payments to those groups.
11. “How Can SSA Improve Service Delivery to Tribal Communities?”
by Barbara Butrica, Stipica Mudrazija, and Jonathan Schwabish, Urban Institute
The proposed project seeks to better understand the service delivery needs of Native American and Tribal Nations, how SSA currently delivers services to those communities, and how service delivery changed during the COVID pandemic. This topic will inform the agency’s plan to strengthen its relationship with tribal communities.
12. “How Does a Structural Equation Model Explain Disability Disparities by Race/Ethnicity?”
by Stipica Mudrazija and Barbara Butrica, Urban Institute
Traditional analytic approaches may lead to underestimates of disparities by race/ethnicity and sex due to their inability to account for the impact of those characteristics on other factors controlled for in the models, such as health, income, and education. This project examines how the application of structural equation models (SEM) may help address this issue by accounting for both direct and indirect impacts of race/ethnicity and sex on outcomes of interest. Following an overview of the SEM’s foundations, this proposal focuses on the empirical applications across a range of key outcomes, including disability and SSDI applications and participation, using data from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS).
13. “How Do High-Pressure Labor Markets Affect the Retirement Security of Low Earners?”
by Barbara Butrica and Stipica Mudrazija, Urban Institute
While existing research has documented the negative consequences of economic downturns and high unemployment on the long-term financial well-being of workers, it has largely overlooked the impact that tight labor markets may have on low-income workers. Using data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID) and the Health and Retirement Study (HRS), this project will assess the impact of high-pressure labor markets during economic expansions on the labor market outcomes of low-income workers, the extent to which these effects dissipate during subsequent high-unemployment periods, and the lifetime effects on future retirement security. These results would improve SSA’s understanding of the connection between economic cycles and the long-term employment prospects and earnings of the most vulnerable beneficiaries.
14. “How Does Past Incarceration Impact Work, Disability, and SSI?”
by Gary V. Engelhardt, Syracuse University
Understanding the determinants of applications for, and receipts of, DI and SSI benefits is a cornerstone of Social Security program analysis. Since the Great Recession, DI and SSI applications have declined steeply, tracking very closely the (pre-pandemic) improvement in the labor market. This strong time-series relationship has masked other potential changes in the applicant pool, such as the aging of the formerly incarcerated population. This project contributes to the DI and SSI knowledge base by estimating the net impact of incarceration in early and mid-adulthood on later-life employment, and on DI and SSI applications and benefit receipt.
15. “What Is the Insurance Value of Social Security by Race and Socioeconomic Status?”
by Gal Wettstein, Karolos Arapakis, and Yimeng Yin, Boston College
This project will use the Health and Retirement Study (HRS) to calibrate a behavioral lifecycle model yielding the utility value of OASI to households by race and socioeconomic status (SES). Utility measures are the only way to evaluate OASI’s insurance value; this approach is central to valuing private sector annuities (Mitchell et al. 1999). SSA has an interest in OASI’s role in reducing disparities in well-being by race.
OASI worker, spousal, and survivor benefits provide a basic level of support in old age that is particularly valuable to Black and low-SES households, who often lack other resources. Differences in resources notwithstanding, disparities in mortality between SES groups may nevertheless lead to lower expected lifetime benefits for Black workers and those with low education. However, the expected value of benefits neglects OASI’s longevity insurance value. The value of such insurance grows with longevity risk – the variance of longevity. In particular, Blacks have greater variance in longevity than whites.
16. “How Will Employer Health Insurance Affect Wages and Social Security Finances?”
by Anqi Chen, and Alicia H. Munnell, Boston College
SSA has an interest in the cost of employer-sponsored health insurance (ESHI) since it impacts both individual wage growth and Social Security finances. ESHI contributions as a share of total compensation have stabilized since the Affordable Care Act (ACA), slowing the downward pressure on wages and the decline in labor compensation subject to the Social Security payroll tax. The reduction in ESHI costs after the ACA increased the trust fund’s 75-year actuarial balance by 0.25 percent of taxable payroll between 2010 and 2019. However, in 2019, Congress repealed a key provision – the individual mandate – in the ACA, and, in response, the Trustees projected that ESHI premiums will grow faster going forward then they have in recent years. This change decreased the 75-year actuarial balance by 0.13 percent of taxable payroll, roughly half of the gain since the ACA. But recent data show that the ratio of ESHI contributions to total compensation has not increased as expected.
Ongoing FY2022 projects:
1. “Does the Drop in Child SSI Applications and Awards During COVID Vary by Locality?”
by Michael Levere and David Wittenburg, Mathematica Policy Research and Jeffery Hemmeter, U.S. Social Security Administration
This project will assess local-level variation in the decline of child SSI applications and awards during COVID. It will link data from the Supplemental Security Record (SSR) with publicly available sources to explore the correlation between SSI applications and awards and local-level COVID experiences, demographics, and economic characteristics. The results will help SSA identify particularly vulnerable areas that may need post-COVID outreach.
Nationwide, child SSI awards fell by more than 30 percent during COVID (U.S. Social Security Administration 2021a) with a large drop in applications (Emanuel 2021). Based on past research on how office closures impact SSI participation (Deshpande and Li 2019), the closure of all field offices likely affected both applications and awards. Other factors that varied locally – e.g., social, educational, and medical service responses; demographics; reductions in economic activity; and COVID cases and deaths – could also contribute to the decline in applications and awards. It is critical for SSA to understand these patterns in local decline to identify areas with the strongest future need to conduct outreach and encourage equitable program growth.
2. “How Might Workers Respond If Social Security’s Revenue Base Were Broadened?”
by Karen Smith and Richard Johnson, Urban Institute
This project will use restricted IRS statistics of Income (SOI) data to analyze the amount and distribution of workers’ compensation that is excluded from the Social Security contribution base. It will describe the characteristics of workers with excluded compensation and estimate how much additional Social Security tax revenue could be collected under alternate treatment of excluded income. The longitudinal feature of the data will enable us to estimate potential behavioral responses to any changes in the Social Security wage cap, payroll tax rate, or taxability of excluded compensation.
3. “How Do Racial Disparities in Lifetime Earnings Shape Social Security and SSI Benefits?”
by Richard Johnson, Urban Institute and Tokunbo Oluwole, Gayle L. Reznik, and Christopher R. Tamborini, U.S. Social Security Administration
This project will use pooled data from the Current Population Survey matched to administrative records on earnings, program participation, immigration status, and mortality to examine how earnings differences affect future Social Security benefits. We will document long-range earnings disparities by race, Hispanic origin, nativity, sex, and education simultaneously and show how long-range earnings inequities affect key Social Security policy parameters. Our estimates can help improve SSA and Urban Institute distributional projections of OASDI and SSI proposals, thus bolstering capacity for racial equity scoring.
4. “How Has BOND Affected Work Outcomes by Race?”
by Amal Harrati and Denise Hoffman, Mathematica Policy Research and John Jones, U.S. Social Security Administration
We propose to re-examine impacts from the Benefit Offset National Demonstration (BOND) to explore racial differences in outcomes. Specifically, we will examine: 1) whether racial differences in program impact exist; and 2) the extent to which differences can be traced to community-level racial inequities in economic conditions. This research can highlight structural forces that contribute to racial disparities in return to work and inform future SSA efforts to tailor program implementation to help alleviate these disparities.
Racial inequalities in local labor market conditions and opportunities may have limited the reach of the BOND intervention for some or all participants. This analysis will identify characteristics of participants’ communities that may hinder employment opportunities by race. We will pair data from the BOND impact analysis with four well-validated measures of racial inequalities in employment and economic conditions for participants’ county of residence.
Ongoing FY2019 project:
1. “Examining Mortality and Receipt of Benefits Administered by SSA as Reasons for Desistance from Homelessness among Older Adults”
by Matthew S. Rutledge, Boston College, Dennis Culhane, University of Pennsylvania, and Thomas Byrne, Boston University
The study links data from the emergency shelter systems in several large American cities with SSA data to investigate the pattern of desistance from homelessness among those in the age cohort who have been disproportionately impacted by homelessness for over 20 years and who are now approaching retirement age. The specific research questions to be addressed by the study are as follows: 1) To what extent does mortality contribute to the observed pattern of desistance from homelessness among older adults?; 2) How does premature death impact the ability of persons with a history of homelessness to receive Social Security retirement benefits? To what extent do individuals with earnings histories that would render them eligible for Social Security retirement benefits die prior to reaching the statutory age for claiming these benefits?; and 3) To what extent do older homeless adults receive Social Security retirement benefits, SSDI and SSI? Does receipt of these benefits help facilitate exits from homelessness?