Covid’s Drag on the Workforce Proves Persistent. ‘It Sets Us Back.’

Link: https://www.wsj.com/articles/covid-workforce-absenteeism-productivity-economy-labor-11667831493

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Two-and-a-half years after Covid-19 emerged, reported infections are way down, pandemic restrictions are practically gone and life in many respects is approaching normal. The labor force, however, is not.

Researchers say the virus is having a persistent effect, keeping millions out of work and reducing the productivity and hours of millions more, disrupting business operations and raising costs.

In the average month this year, nearly 630,000 more workers missed at least a week of work because of illness than in the years before the pandemic, according to Labor Department data. That is a reduction in workers equal to about 0.4 percent of the labor force, a significant amount in a tight labor market. That share is up about 0.1 percentage point from the same period last year, the data show.

….

Another half a million workers have dropped out of the labor force due to lingering effects from previous Covid infections, according to research by economists Gopi Shah Goda of Stanford University and Evan J. Soltas at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In a Census Bureau survey in October, 1.1 million people said they hadn’t worked the week before because they were concerned about contracting or spreading the virus.

The resulting labor shortages are contributing to upward pressure on wages and inflation, one reason the Fed delivered its fourth consecutive 0.75 percentage point interest rate increase last Wednesday. On Friday, the Labor Department reported brisk job growth in October, but health-related absences remained elevated and the labor force contracted slightly.

Author(s): Gwynn Guilford and Lauren Weber

Publication Date: 7 Nov 2022

Publication Site: WSJ

Social Security Politics

Link: https://marypatcampbell.substack.com/p/social-security-politics#details

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2022 OASDI Trustees Report, plus spreadsheets, etc. https://www.ssa.gov/OACT/TR/2022/

I am graphing the net change in the OASI (that’s the old age benefit part) Trust Fund, year-over-year.

I think you can easily see all those glorious years the Boomer payroll taxes were being stuffed into the Trust Fund… but really flowing right out into current spending for other goodies.

And you can see when that reversed and is now negative, and will continue to be negative until the Trust Fund is exhausted, in the early 2030s.

Author(s): Mary Pat Campbell

Publication Date: 7 Nov 2022

Publication Site: STUMP at substack

2021 Risks and Process of Retirement Survey

Link: https://www.soa.org/resources/research-reports/2021/retirement-risk-survey/

Full report: https://www.soa.org/48fd8a/globalassets/assets/files/resources/research-report/2021/risks-retirement-findings.pdf

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CHAPTER HIGHLIGHTS:
• Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, level of concern about various risks remains historically low this year for both pre-retirees and retirees. Compared to 2019, level of concern dropped on some issues for retirees. As a result of this drop, retiree concerns are lower than those of pre-retirees by a larger gap than ever before.
• The one exception to this trend was concern about fraud. In 2021, both retirees and pre-retirees were
more concerned about fraud, and it is the highest concern among retirees, particularly Black/African
American retirees. As in prior studies, those with lower income tend to show much higher levels of
concern.
• The biggest concerns for pre-retirees are their savings and investments not keeping up with inflation, not being able to afford long-term care, not being able to afford health care costs, not being able to maintain a reasonable standard of living throughout retirement, and potentially depleting all their savings.
• While half of pre-retirees plan to retire gradually rather than all at once, retiree respondents indicate this
seldom actually happens. Higher-income pre-retirees are more likely to plan to go straight from full time
employment to retirement.
• The COVID-19 pandemic has not affected plans that pre-retirees have for work, living arrangements, and
lifestyle in retirement, although over a quarter report changing their lifestyle.
• Despite the financial challenges that retirement poses, most do not have financial advisors, especially preretirees, lower-income respondents, and Black/African American respondents.

Author(s): Greenwald Research

Publication Date: February 2022

Publication Site: Society of Actuaries

Social Security Needs Saving Again

Link: https://www.wsj.com/articles/social-security-needs-saving-again-retirement-planning-wages-earnings-benefits-eligible-savings-11654631767?mod=opinion_lead_pos5

Excerpt:

— Raise the full retirement age further. Starting in 2028, it would go up by one month every half-year until it reaches 68 1/2 in nine years. That means that in 101 years (1935-2036) the full retirement age would have risen 3 1/2 years — far less than the increase in average life span over the same period.

— Raise the early eligibility age. Since the 1960s, all workers have had the option of retiring at 62 with benefits reduced by around 25%. Most retirees now claim Social Security at 62, and the rising full retirement age strengthens the incentive to do so. Once it’s at 67, holding out for higher payments will mean giving up five years’ worth of benefits — a three-year gap will have widened to five.

If my first reform were enacted, the gap would grow further, to an irresistible 6 1/2 years. So Congress should return to the three-year gap by raising the early eligibility age to 65 1/2 as soon as possible.

— Change the way benefits are calculated for new recipients. At a 1983 White House Rose Garden ceremony, I sat next to a Senate member of the Social Security Reform Commission. I told him, “You can fix Social Security by not indexing the bend points for five years.” His response: “What the hell are bend points?”

Bend points determine how much your initial Social Security check will be. First they take the 35 years of your highest income. Thirty-five years ago, you were a junior employee and the dollar didn’t go as far. So each year’s wages are adjusted for inflation to compute an average monthly wage in today’s dollars.

Using the present rules, assume you’re retiring in 2022 and your average inflation-adjusted monthly wage is $6,572. Your first check would be $2,628.96 — 90% of the first $1,024 (or $921.60), plus 32% from $1,024 to $6,172 (or 1,647.36), plus 15% in excess of $6,172 (or $60).

The bend points are $1,024 and $6,172. They were $230 and $1,388 in 1982, when I wrote my constituent newsletter. The growth in benefits could be constrained by indexing the bend points every other year rather than annually for six to 10 years. In addition, the initial benefit should be based on 38 years of wages rather than 35, since Americans not only live longer but work longer, and the inflation-adjusted average wage should be discounted by 5%.

— Slow the growth of benefits for new and existing beneficiaries alike by changing the basis on which they’re indexed for inflation. All indexing of Social Security now uses the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers, or CPI-W. Economists agree that the Chained CPI is the most accurate inflation index available. Between 2000 and 2020, the Chained CPI was around 0.3 percentage point lower each year than the CPI-W. The government uses Chained CPI to index income-tax brackets and the higher CPI-W to calculate government outlays, including Social Security cost-of-living adjustments — which leads both taxes and spending to rise more quickly.

— Withhold some Social Security COLAs from higher-income retirees. Those who report income of more than $60,000 (a threshold that itself would rise with inflation) from sources other than Social Security could be denied the COLA every other year for up to six years.

— Give the COLA not annually but every 14 or 15 months using the 12 months of lowest inflation.

— Tax Social Security income for higher-bracket taxpayers, and give them the option to forgo all or part of their monthly payment. The forgone amount could be deducted as a charitable contribution. In high-income-tax states, forgoing Social Security payments would incur little or no cost. Skeptics may be surprised by how many Americans will forgo a part of their monthly checks to assure the system’s solvency for their grandchildren. The election to forgo would be reversible annually.

— Raise the payroll tax by 0.1% of wages every other year — half from withholding, half for the employer’s contribution — for 20 years, a total tax increase of 1%.

Author(s): Rudy Boschwitz

Publication Date: 7 June 2022

Publication Site: WSJ

Public’s Cash Stash Will Cushion a Downturn? Maybe Not

Link: https://www.ai-cio.com/news/publics-cash-stash-will-cushion-a-downturn-maybe-not/

Excerpt:

One calming thought amid today’s economic turmoil has been that any recession would be softened by the large trove of savings that the U.S. public has accrued since the pandemic began. But that cushion may be a lot less protective than many believe, according to a study by Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics.

Pandemic savings have “been run down further than previously thought,” Shepherdson noted. “Consumers’ financial cushion against tighter financial conditions is smaller” than before, he wrote.

Thanks to Washington stimulus and curbed spending in the early days of COVID-19, savings had run up to $2.6 trillion. New government data, however, show that this ready cash has shrunk, no doubt due to high consumer outlays that kicked in since. Almost a third of the trove has been spent.

Indeed, consumers have gone back to their previous ways of preferring spending to saving, and then some. This past decade, before the pandemic, the personal savings rate was around 6% of their disposable income. That shot up to almost 25% in early 2020 and stayed high until the middle of 2021. Lately, it is a mere 3.5%.

Author(s): Larry Light

Publication Date: 10 Oct 2022

Publication Site: ai-CIO

What Social Security Should Really Be Paying to Survive in This Economy

Link: https://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2022/10/what-social-security-should-really-be-paying-to-survive-in-this-economy.html

Excerpt:

Inflation continues to rise in the United States. Although gas prices have recently fallen since their record high over the summer, the cost of groceries rose by 11.4 percent over the last year, and there is no expectation that they will fall back to reasonable levels. Prices overall have risen by 8.2 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Price Index report covering September 2022 as compared to the same month last year. While most working Americans are not getting hefty wage raises to compensate for inflation, seniors will see their Social Security benefits—which are pegged to inflation—rise next year. Starting in January 2023, beneficiaries will see an 8.7 percent cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) bump in their Social Security checks.

Conservatives are scoffing at this automated increase, as if it were a special treat that the Biden administration has cooked up to bribe older voters. Fox News reported that there was a “social media backlash” against White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain’s tweet lauding the upcoming increased COLA benefits for seniors. The outlet elevated comments by the conservative America First Policy Institute’s Marc Lotter, who retorted to Klain, “Nice try Ron. Raising benefits next year does not help seniors with the higher prices they are paying today or the higher prices they’ve been paying since you took office.”

But Social Security benefits have risen automatically with inflation since 1975 by design, precisely so that the livelihoods of seniors are not beholden to partisanship. This is an imminently sensible way to ensure that retired Americans, who spent their working lives paying Social Security taxes, can have a basic income.

If conservatives are complaining that an 8.7 percent bump is not enough to counter inflation, one might expect them to demand an even greater increase to Social Security benefits.

Author(s): Sonali Kolhatkar

Publication Date: 15 Oct 2022

Publication Site: naked capitalism

Why Aren’t More People Claiming Government Benefits?

Link: https://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article/why-arent-more-people-claiming-government-benefits/

Excerpt:

When the Biden administration expanded the Child Tax Credit in 2021 with direct cash payments of up to $3,600 to alleviate child poverty, millions of the most vulnerable families never received the automatic payments because they didn’t have a digital connection with the Internal Revenue Service through a previous income tax filing online. The burden was on those families to seek out the public benefit.

To boost awareness, the government launched a messaging campaign to let families know that up to $3,600 a year was waiting for them. But months later, millions of dollars were still unclaimed.

A new study led by Wharton marketing professor Wendy De La Rosa pinpoints the reason why so many Americans left money on the table: The large amount seemed like an abstraction because people don’t think about money on a yearly basis. Through a series of experiments, the researchers found that people were more likely to collect the money if it was conveyed as a monthly or weekly amount — $300 or $69 — similar to how they budget.

Author(s): Angie Basiouny

Publication Date: 11 Oct 2022

Publication Site: Knowledge @ Wharton

The Economic Cost of Gun Violence

Link: https://everytownresearch.org/report/the-economic-cost-of-gun-violence/

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  • Taxpayers, survivors, families, and employers pay an average of $7.79 million daily in health care costs, including immediate and long-term medical and mental health care, plus patient transportation/ambulance costs related to gun violence, and lose an estimated $147.32 million per day related to work missed due to injury or death. 
  • American taxpayers pay $30.16 million every day in police and criminal justice costs for investigation, prosecution, and incarceration. 
  • Employers lose an average of $1.47 million on a daily basis in productivity, revenue, and costs required to recruit and train replacements for victims of gun violence.
  • Society loses $1.34 billion daily in quality-of-life costs from the suffering and lost well-being of gun violence victims and their families.

Author(s):

Publication Date: 19 July 2022

Publication Site: Everytown Research

Reductions in US life expectancy during the COVID-19 pandemic by race and ethnicity: Is 2021 a repetition of 2020?

Link: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9432732/

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Abstract:

COVID-19 had a huge mortality impact in the US in 2020 and accounted for most of the overall reduction in 2020 life expectancy at birth. There were also extensive racial/ethnic disparities in the mortality impact of COVID-19 in 2020, with the Black and Latino populations experiencing reductions in life expectancy at birth over twice as large as that of the White population. Despite continued vulnerability of these populations, the hope was that widespread distribution of effective vaccines would mitigate the overall mortality impact and reduce racial/ethnic disparities in 2021. In this study, we quantify the mortality impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on 2021 US period life expectancy by race and ethnicity and compare these impacts to those estimated for 2020. Our estimates indicate that racial/ethnic disparities have persisted, and that the US population experienced a decline in life expectancy at birth in 2021 of 2.2 years from 2019, 0.6 years more than estimated for 2020. The corresponding reductions estimated for the Black and Latino populations are slightly below twice that for Whites, suggesting smaller disparities than those in 2020. However, all groups experienced additional reductions in life expectancy at birth relative to 2020, and this apparent narrowing of disparities is primarily the result of Whites experiencing proportionately greater increases in mortality in 2021 compared with the corresponding increases in mortality for the Black and Latino populations in 2021. Estimated declines in life expectancy at age 65 increased slightly for Whites between 2020 and 2021 but decreased for both the Black and Latino populations, resulting in the same overall reduction (0.8 years) estimated for 2020 and 2021.

Author(s): Theresa Andrasfay, Noreen Goldman

Publication Date: 31 Aug 2022

Publication Site: PLOS ONE

Citation: Andrasfay T, Goldman N. Reductions in US life expectancy during the COVID-19 pandemic by race and ethnicity: Is 2021 a repetition of 2020? PLoS One. 2022 Aug 31;17(8):e0272973. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0272973. PMID: 36044413; PMCID: PMC9432732.

Solvency And Sustainability Of Social Security

Link:https://www.lifehealth.com/solvency-and-sustainability-of-social-security/

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2021 Costs Exceed Income

As seen from subtracting the total cost shown in Table 2 from the total income shown in Table 1, Social Security paid out $56.3 billion more in benefits and expenses than it collected in income.

Because Social Security has trust funds, the total costs of 2021 were still met. However, the trust funds declined in 2021 by the $56.3 billion that costs exceeded income. At the end of 2020, the trust funds totaled $2,908.3 billion, and at the end of 2021, the trust funds totaled $2,852.0 billion.

Solvency

As highlighted in the Academy’s issue brief An Actuarial Perspective on the 2022 Social Security Trustees Report, the 2022 Trustees Report contains key solvency facts about the system:

  • Social Security costs continue to be projected to exceed the income of the program, until the trust funds are projected to become depleted during 2035.
  • If changes to the program are not implemented before 2035, 80% of scheduled benefits would be payable after depletion of the trust funds in 2035, declining to 74% by 2096.

Author(s): Amy Kemp, MAAA, ASA, EA

Publication Date: October 2022

Publication Site: Advisor Magazine

The most common restaurant cuisine in every state, and a chain-restaurant mystery

Link: https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2022/09/29/chain-restaurant-capitals/

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The places that drive the most tend to have the same high share of chain restaurants regardless of whether they voted for Trump or Biden. As car commuting decreases, chain restaurants decrease at roughly the same rate, no matter which candidate most residents supported.

If the link between cars and chains transcends partisanship, why does it look like Trump counties have more chain restaurants? It’s at least in part because he won more of the places with the most car commuters!

About 83 percent of workers commute by car nationally, but only 80 percent of folks in Biden counties do so, compared with 90 percent of workers in Trump counties. The share of car commuters ranges from 55 percent in the deep-blue New York City metro area to 96 percent around bright red Decatur, Ala.

Author(s): Andrew Van Dam

Publication Date: 1 Oct 2022

Publication Site: WaPo

Young Versus Old Will Define Fight Over Public Pensions

Link:https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/young-versus-old-will-define-fight-over-public-pensions/2022/10/06/d4fae69a-4566-11ed-be17-89cbe6b8c0a5_story.html

Excerpt:

Younger workers are mostly excluded from those benefits, and few believe pension funds will be around to pay them at retirement time anyway. So younger workers want salary increases rather than promises. Also, portable, employee-directed accounts like 401(k)s rather than large and ever-increasing contributions to black-hole public pension systems. The fight in 2023 may be more between younger and older public employees than between united public employees and taxpayers.I think young employees will score their first victory after many years of getting pushed down. It will be short-term inflation then that applies lethal pressure in a tight labor market, not stock prices, interest rates or even longer-term expectations of price increases. Wages will have to be raised for public employees, who will refuse burdens from past underfunding or benefit cuts that apply only to them. The alternative is unacceptable declines in public services as the best employees quit, job openings go unfilled and qualifications for new hires are lowered.The most heavily indebted states, with the worst credit ratings and biggest pension funding shortfalls, may not be able to pay these increases. While 2022 should be a good revenue year for a majority of state and local governments, heavily indebted states with big pension-funding gaps need to brace for some serious headwinds. Illinois already spends 11% of its revenue to service debt. Increased yields on its bonds could double that to 22% as debt is refinanced, even if the state runs balanced budgets.

The temptation to cut benefits for retirees may be overwhelming. While these people can (and will) yell and scream, that’s easier to accept than a teachers’ strike or a police slowdown. Current employees can be offered generous wage increases and portable pensions. Reducing actuarial pension liabilities will please creditors and rating agencies. Taxpayers will appreciate being spared. In many states, cutting benefits will require a constitutional amendment or other legal heavy lifting, but with enough incentive, that can be done.

I expect something like Social Security reforms. A cap will cut benefits for people receiving the highest pensions, and states will put tax surcharges on benefits for high-income people even if they have moved out-of-state. Copays and deductibles will be increased for health coverage.

The first state to try this will face strong legal challenges, a nationwide union counteroffensive and significant in-state political resistance. But with enough fiscal pressure it may happen. If state administrations can keep current public employees on the sidelines, via wage increases and benefit restructuring, it might succeed.

Author(s): Aaron Brown, Bloomberg

Publication Date: 6 Oct 2022

Publication Site: Washington Post