Struggling Workers’ Financial Woes Mount

The COVID-19 economy is really a tale of two worlds. The stock market and housing market have largely shrugged off the economic slowdown. But severe financial problems are brewing for millions of workers who have lost their jobs or are earning less in a lackluster economy. The assistance passed by Congress will certainly help. Still, half of all workers reported in a Transamerica Institute survey late last year that they are experiencing at least one employment disruption, whether a layoff, reduced work hours, shrinking paychecks and commissions, or an early retirement. A crisis also looms for thousands of renters if the Centers for Disease Control allows its eviction moratorium to expire at the end of this month. Paying taxes is…

January 21, 2021

Is Job Automation Connected to Disability?

Manufacturing workers file more applications to the federal disability program than any other workers. What seems new is that jobs like administrative assistant and retail worker aren’t that far behind. Is one possible explanation that the computerization of once-routine occupations like these plays a role in decisions to apply for disability benefits? Consider the example of a retail worker with a bad back who is laid off, or perhaps she quits because she struggled to handle the cognitive challenges of increased automation. Even simple tasks such as processing customer transactions or locating a product at another store now require computer skills. And the worker’s skills may not match up with the technical qualifications needed to find a new job in…

January 19, 2021

Boomers Repairing their Mortgage Finances

The housing market collapse more than a decade ago inflicted a lot of financial damage on baby boomers nearing retirement. But a new study finds that some have been trying to make up for lost time by rapidly reducing their mortgage debt. Since the Great Recession, the boomers who were born in the 1950s – they are now in their 60s – have paid down more than 40 percent of their remaining mortgages and home equity loans, on average – a much faster pace than their parents did at that age. Not all the damage from the Great Recession can be repaired, however, because many people lost their homes in the wave of foreclosures. For example, the homeownership rate for…

January 14, 2021

Top Economists Seek Solutions to Inequality

Something remarkable is happening in the economics profession. Top researchers in the field have begun arguing for policies to alleviate growing U.S. income and wealth inequality. For decades, inequality wasn’t taken very seriously by economists. But that view “has changed dramatically,” said James K. Galbraith of the University of Texas at Austin, who moderated a Zoom panel at the annual meeting of the Allied Social Science Associations last week. Inequality, Galbraith said, has “become one of the most important questions economists face.” And COVID-19, argued Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz, a panelist, “has brought out very forcefully the nature of the inequalities in our society” and has “exacerbated those inequalities.” The pandemic’s effects include larger increases in unemployment for low-wage workers,…

January 12, 2021

Alzheimer’s: from Denial to Empowerment

First came the denial. Jay Reinstein co-hosts a radio call in program every Tuesday. Jay Reinstein’s unwillingness to accept that he had early onset Alzheimer’s disease was equal in magnitude to the responsibilities he would have to give up as the assistant city manager of Fayetteville, North Carolina. He was afraid the people working for him would judge him. But disclosing his condition to coworkers was unavoidable. After Reinstein, who is 59, was diagnosed in March 2018, his doctor made this very clear: “You’re in a visible position and making decisions. You’ve got to tell them.” With encouragement from a therapist, Reinstein informed his boss, and together they mapped out a plan for telling the city’s elected officials and employees…

January 7, 2021

Our Popular Blogs in the Year of COVID

2020 was a year like no other. But despite the pandemic, most baby boomers’ finances emerged unscathed. The stock market rebounded smartly from its March nosedive. And the economy has improved, though it remains on shaky ground. Our readers, having largely ridden out last spring’s disruptions, returned to a perennial issue of interest to them: retirement planning. One of their favorite articles last year was “Unexpected Retirement Costs Can be Big.” So was “Changing Social Security: Who’s Affected,” which was about the toll that increasing the program’s earliest retirement age could take on blue-collar workers in physical jobs who don’t have the luxury of delaying retirement. COVID-19 in the nation’s nursing homes has caused incomprehensible tragedy. A nursing home advocat…

January 5, 2021

A Splendid Holiday Gift: a Vaccine

Rather than look back on a bizarre and painful 2020, let’s look ahead to the bright side: a vaccine. It is truly remarkable that top-notch scientists have been able to create several vaccines in record time. Producing and delivering them will be another hurdle, and questions remain about side effects and how long a vaccine will protect us. Many Americans’ reluctance to strictly adhere to public health standards will unfortunately slow our ability to put the virus completely behind us. But scientists and public health officials seem confident the vaccines can eventually snuff out this once-in-a-lifetime pandemic. Only then can we get back to our normal activities, such as traveling, eating at restaurants, and shopping – in person, rather than…

December 23, 2020

Video Documents Nursing Home Tragedy

 When COVID-19 started spreading through nursing homes last spring, the United States had no first-hand experience battling a coronavirus. That’s a fair point but an inadequate explanation for a tragedy in which more than 100,000 nursing home residents and staff to date have died of COVID-related causes. There is plenty of blame to go around. Governments either wouldn’t or couldn’t provide enough personal protective equipment, forcing the certified nursing assistants to don garbage bags and recycle masks. A shortage of tests limited the ability to detect asymptomatic cases and contain outbreaks. The Centers for Disease Control, prior to the pandemic, had documented poor infection control practices. This made nursing homes a petri dish for spreading the virus. Acute staffing shortages…

December 22, 2020

How Much Will Your Retirement Taxes Be?

Four out of five retired households will pay little or no income taxes. But the tax rates at the highest income levels are meaningful, averaging 11 percent of household income and as much as 23 percent at the very top. These estimates come from a new analysis by the Center for Retirement Research that sheds light on a potentially important consideration that is often overlooked by people approaching retirement age. The highest tax rates are paid by the highest-income households because they often withdraw money from 401(k)s and IRAs to supplement their Social Security benefits. They must also pay capital gains taxes when they sell stocks and bonds for a profit from their regular financial accounts. Households with income in…

December 17, 2020

Crisis for Renters Threatens to Get Worse

Many unemployed and underemployed workers have run out of options for paying the rent. The National Low Income Housing Coalition, the Aspen Institute, and other organizations estimate that up to 40 million renters risk being evicted this winter. Congress is currently negotiating a new COVID-19 relief package but it’s not yet known whether it will extend a CDC moratorium on evictions or go beyond the Cares Act last spring and provide rental assistance to help renters and, by extension, their landlords. Squared Away spoke with Sarah Saadian, vice president of public policy for the National Low Income Housing Coalition, about what she describes as an impending calamity. Q: How bad is the current situation? Saadian: It’s really hard to get…

December 15, 2020

Affordable Care Act Indirectly Affects SSI

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) requires that insurance companies offer coverage to young adults with disabilities – like all young people – through their parents’ employer coverage until age 26. So, up to this point, many adults with disabilities now have a viable way to get health services, independent of any government assistance. But at 26, that changes. A Mathematica study finds that’s when some start applying to the federal Supplemental Security Income Program (SSI) – probably partly to gain access to Medicaid health coverage. Health insurance is critically important to people with disabilities, who often need expensive, specialized medical services. SSI’s purpose is to provide monthly cash assistance for living expenses if they lack financial resources and don’t hav…

December 10, 2020

Video: Young Adults Share Career Setbacks

 More than half of young adults are now living with their parents – the highest level in more than a century, according to the Pew Research Center. This alarming statistic, first featured in a September blog, is the result of a long-term trend that has accelerated during the economic slowdown caused by COVID-19. In this PBS NewsHour video by Catherine Rampell, young adults 24 to 39 years old who are taking refuge in their parents’ homes talked about their stalled social lives and disrupted careers – their disappointments always tinged with a sense of humor. They include Marcellus Adams, who was laid off from two jobs, as an auto mechanic and emergency room staffer, and, at 29, has never really lived on…

December 8, 2020