What Happens When Federal Disability Benefits Stop?

Going back to work after relying on federal disability can be fraught with uncertainty. Some people experience a smooth transition, while others may have trouble becoming self-sufficient after their skills deteriorate and professional contacts dwindle. Researchers at Mathematica examined how people fare in the labor force after their benefits end. This can happen for one of two reasons. First, Social Security stops paying benefits if one of the agency’s periodic medical reviews determines that a health condition has improved to the point where the individual no longer medically qualifies. The second reason is that Social Security limits how much beneficiaries are permitted to earn. In order to encourage them to return to the labor force, the agency provides a set…

July 27, 2023

Errors in Retirees’ Medical Bills are Rife

The stories are harrowing. In complaints to the federal government, retirees describe the costly errors in medical billing that they struggle, often unsuccessfully, to straighten out. One low-income person was told, during his cancer treatments, that they weren’t covered when in fact the hospital wasn’t processing his Medicaid coverage. Another retiree submitted letters to a specialist’s office over a two-year period explaining – with supporting insurance documents – why he didn’t owe the doctor the money he’d been billed for a test. Someone else, while being whisked to the hospital in an ambulance, provided his Medicare and supplemental insurance cards during the ride. He never got a bill – just a call from a debt collection agency. Finally, one retir…

July 27, 2023

Research Meeting on Racial Aspects of Health, Retiring

Researchers will present studies funded by the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) that meet the agency’s goal of understanding and addressing the racial disparities in the economy and in federal benefit policies. The studies will be presented over Zoom by researchers from around the country. There is no charge for attending the Aug. 3 and 4 event but registration is required. The full agenda for the meeting is posted online. The gap between Black and Hispanic Americans’ wealth levels and White wealth is well documented. But one study to be presented examines a specific aspect of the racial wealth gap: differences in the use of the tax deductions workers receive for putting money into an employer 401(k). White workers, for example,…

July 25, 2023

The Uneasy State of U.S. Retirement Saving Today

This was 2022 in a nutshell: more people are saving for retirement but they’re not saving nearly enough. Every year, Vanguard releases its report on the state of the nation’s habits around saving for retirement. Participation among workers with access to 401(k) plans has jumped over the past five years from 72 percent to 83 percent in 2022, according to the newest report on the 401(k) plans in Vanguard’s large client base. Some credit goes to the growing popularity among employers of automatically enrolling workers in their plans. Under this corporate policy, employee participation in 401(k)-style plans is 93 percent, versus just 70 percent when they don’t get that nudge and are left on their own to decide whether to…

July 20, 2023

Studies Explore Underlying Issues in Disability Program

The chronic medical conditions and musculoskeletal problems that afflict workers of all ages have far-reaching effects on the labor market and the federal disability program that economists are trying to understand. The following three studies focus in on specific aspects of the workers who apply for disability benefits. “Workplace Injuries and Receipt of Benefits from Workers Compensation and SSDI”: In most states, Social Security disability benefits are supposed to be reduced if the benefits, when added to private workers’ compensation payments, exceed 80 percent of the injured worker’s current earnings. The researchers, by combining Social Security data with workers’ comp payments for people with permanent workplace injuries, find that the share of Social Security recipients whose monthly payments are being…

July 18, 2023

Retirees Spend Less on Medications as Other Medical Costs Rise

Today’s retirees typically spend about a third less on medical care than retirees did back in 2004, according to new research. Workers who are over 55 but not yet eligible for Medicare are spending somewhat less too. Two policies have reversed the trend of years of rising costs: the introduction of Medicare’s Part D prescription drug coverage and the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which expanded Medicaid to more low-income workers and made private insurance somewhat more affordable for the people who don’t have coverage through their jobs. But behind the 20-year decline in healthcare spending, adjusted for inflation, is another fact of life: healthcare costs increase as people age, and some people are luckier than others. Consider older workers and…

July 13, 2023

State IRA Programs Improve Odds That Firms Set Up a 401k

Seven states now require employers that don’t have retirement plans to automatically enroll their workers in an IRA, and others have passed legislation to create similar programs. The goal is to get more people to save for retirement at a time financial security in old age increasingly depends on it. Pensions are rapidly disappearing. But only about half of working people are currently saving enough to maintain their standard of living when they retire. A major culprit in the savings shortfall is that workers do not consistently have access to a retirement plan through their jobs. The share of workers with employer plans has barely budged in decades. Information about how employers might react to the state IRA mandates is…

July 11, 2023

Unforeseen Consequences: the Americans with Disabilities Act

In 1990, Congress granted people with disabilities the same federal protections against employment discrimination that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 had provided on the basis of sex and race. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) also added a second level of support: employers must find ways to help the disabled perform their jobs. This was watershed legislation that has made life easier for millions of workers by requiring employers to provide assistive devices or otherwise accommodate their disabilities. The law is also the basis of a growing number of federal lawsuits against employers to provide remedies if they’ve been discriminated against. But research that first started appearing right after the ADA passed has shown that employers cut back on…

July 6, 2023

Happy Fourth of July!

The staff here at the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College who write and produce this blog send our wishes for a festive July 4th and safe travels for people driving long distances to reconnect with family.  Squared Away writer Kim Blanton invites you to follow us on Twitter @SquaredAwayBC. To stay current on our blog, please join our free email list. You’ll receive just one email each week – with links to the two new posts for that week – when you sign up here. This blog is supported by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston Colleg…

July 4, 2023

Food Security Better with Food Stamps than Cash Payments

The notion in policy circles that governments should provide in-kind benefits, rather than cash, is often framed as being impractical or even unfair. The proponents of cash payments argue that people should be able to choose how they spend their money. A new paper presents the opposite side: Sometimes people are better off with in-kind benefits. The in-kind benefit in this study is food stamps, and the researchers detected increases in food insecurity when state governments decided to provide cash assistance instead of food stamps. The motivation for this study is the 1974 introduction of the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program, which paid cash directly to the low-income elderly and to people with disabilities. When Congress passed SSI, the federa…

June 29, 2023

Retirement: Depressing or Uplifting? It’s Up to You

The impact of retiring on mental health is very hazy. So many considerations factor into whether people retire that it’s difficult to predict how it will go. Some are uplifted by finally getting out from under a bad situation while others gets depressed because they’ve lost their purpose or important social connections. Reactions to being retired depend on, among other things, the person’s health, whether the job is fulfilling or physically very strenuous, and whether they’ve planned for how to fill the days. So it seems important to figure out why some people thrive in retirement while others become depressed. Financial considerations are, of course, central to the timing. But money aside, my own experience watching 60-something friends tells m…

June 27, 2023

Is It Truly Wheelchair Accessible? This App Has Answers

Restaurants are equipped with all sorts of obstacles too. Room to maneuver around the tables? Will my wheelchair arms fit under the table? Did the designer of the bathroom ramp and oversized stall fail to install grab bars? And what if I drink a lot of water and then learn that the “accessible” bathroom doesn’t work for my unique needs? “I’ve experienced all of it,” says Jake Haendel. “I’ve had a lot of anxiety about going out because I didn’t know what would meet my needs. They say it’s ‘accessible’ but it’s a meaningless term.” And that wheelchair icon? “They slap it on everything,” he said. Haendel, who has an extremely rare neurological condition that ties him to a wheelchair…

June 22, 2023