Millions retired early during the pandemic. Many are now returning to work, new data shows.

Link: https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2022/05/05/retirement-jobs-work-inflation-medicare/

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Roughly 2.4 million additional Americans retired in the first 18 months of the pandemic than expected, making up the majority of the 4.2 million people who left the labor force between March 2020 and July 2021, according to Miguel Faria-e-Castro, a senior economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.

The percentage of retirees returning to work has picked up momentum in recent months, hitting a pandemic high of 3.2 percent in March, according to Indeed. In interviews with nearly a dozen workers who recently “un-retired,” many said they felt comfortable returning to work now that they’ve gotten the coronavirus vaccine and booster shots. Almost all said they’d taken on jobs that were more accommodating of their needs, whether that meant being able to work remotely, travel less or set their own hours.

“This is primarily a story of a tight labor market,” said Bunker of Indeed, who added that there was a similar rebound in people returning from retirement after the Great Recession. “For so much of last year, the big question in the labor market was: Where are all the workers? This year we’re seeing that they’re coming back.”

Author(s): Abha Bhattarai

Publication Date: 6 May 2022

Publication Site: WaPo

Teslas running Autopilot involved in 273 crashes reported since last year

Link: https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2022/06/15/tesla-autopilot-crashes/

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Tesla vehicles running its Autopilot software have been involved in 273 reported crashes over roughly the past year, according to regulators, far more than previously known and providing concrete evidence regarding the real-world performance of its futuristic features.

The numbers, which were published by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for the first time Wednesday, show that Tesla vehicles made up nearly 70 percent of the 392 crashes involving advanced driver-assistance systems reported since last July, and a majority of the fatalities and serious injuries — some of which date back further than a year. Eight of the Tesla crashes took place before June 2021, according to data released by NHTSA on Wednesday morning.

Previously, NHTSA said it had probed 42 crashes potentially involving driver assistance, 35 of which included Tesla vehicles, in a more limited data set that stretched back to 2016.

Of the six fatalities listed in the data set published Wednesday, five were tied to Tesla vehicles — including a July 2021 crash involving a pedestrian in Flushing, Queens, and a fatal crash in March in Castro Valley, Calif. Some dated as far back as 2019.

Author(s): Faiz Siddiqui, Rachel Lerman and Jeremy B. Merrill

Publication Date: 15 Jun 2022

Publication Site: Washington Post

As our entitlements crisis gets closer, a solution moved farther away

Link: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2022/06/09/social-security-medicare-crisis-approaching/

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The annual Social Security trustees report is once again upon us, and this year it actually bears some good news: The projections give us an extra year before the trust fund is exhausted in 2035.

At least, this sounded like good news when I first heard it. Then I remembered that I have been writing about these trustees reports for more than 15 years. When I started, all these projections sounded comfortably far off — we had decades to fix the problem! Now we have 13 years. And in all that time, we have done nothing at all, except watch the date of insolvency advance.

In 2008, it was 2040, and the people likely to be worst affected — those who would be eligible to retire just as the trust fund was exhausted — were 35. Now, the people facing the most disruption are 54, much closer to retirement than to their college graduation.

In the meantime, the politics of fixing America’s old-age entitlements has gotten considerably worse.

Author(s): Megan McArdle

Publication Date: 9 June 2022

Publication Site: Washington Post

The pandemic’s reported death toll will soon reach 1 million people in the United States.

Link: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/interactive/2022/how-many-people-died-covid-united-states-1-million-graphic/

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The pandemic’s death toll in the United States will surpass 1 million people in the coming days. Conveying the meaning or the magnitude of this number is impossible. But 1 million deaths is the benchmark of an unprecedented American tragedy.

Consider this comparison: The population of D.C. is about 670,000 people. Try to imagine life without every person, in every building, on every street, in the nation’s capital. And then imagine another 330,000 people are gone.

To attempt to put the 1 million deaths in context, we plotted its damage over more than two years and compared the continuing death toll with the tolls from previous catastrophes in our history.

Author(s): Sergio Peçanha and Yan Wu

Publication Date: 12 May 2022

Publication Site: Washington Post

Maryland is wasting its pensioners’ money

Link:https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2022/02/04/maryland-is-wasting-its-pensioners-money/

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Seven hundred and forty-four million dollars. That is the amount of Wall Street fees paid by the Maryland state pension plan for investment advice in fiscal 2021.

Over the past 10 years, the fees totaled roughly $4.5 billion, or about 15 percent of the plan’s earnings. For that kind of money, you would think the state gets only the prime stock and bond picks from its advisers, but, during that time, Maryland, as with most other states, failed to beat the returns of a simple 60 percent stocks/40 percent bonds index. Many large institutional investors, including public pension plans, use this 60/40 index as a barometer to gauge their portfolios’ results. They structure their portfolios to avoid a 100 percent exposure to the sometimes volatile stock market. If their results are better than the index for a given year, they claim success. Many mutual funds attract smaller individual retail and 401(k) retirement accounts by copying the index and charging low fees for passive management.

….

This drainage damages the financial security of public workers in Maryland and other states, and it forces greater taxpayer contributions to the plans. The ongoing situation has a secondary effect as well: The massive wealth transfer — from public workers and average taxpayers — to a small coterie of Wall Street money managers fosters a new plutocracy, successful at obscuring the problem and blocking reform.

The obvious fix for public plans is to shift from expensive fee investments to low-fee indexing, a tactic endorsed by none other than Warren Buffett, the noted value investor and philanthropist. For large public plans, including Maryland’s, this shift, if implemented, would be gradual. Extricating the fund from its long-term contractual commitments and replacing them with passive investments is going to take time.

Author(s): Jeff Hooke

Publication Date: 4 Feb 2022

Publication Site: Washington Post

More than 1 million have died in the overdose crisis, but still the response is scandalously inadequate

Link:https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2022/01/24/dopesick-author-on-opioid-crisis/

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These are measures taken by people desperately fighting, largely on their own, against a drug-overdose death toll that historically has killed more Americans than the coronavirus pandemic. Since 1996, the year OxyContin launched and the United States’ health-care system fell prey to the lie that opioid painkillers were safe for virtually everything from headaches to wisdom-tooth surgery, more than 1 million Americans have died of overdoses; the coronavirus pandemic has claimed about 850,000. During the first year of the pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a record 100,000 annual overdose deaths.

….

But with an even more lethal overdose crisis — and that’s not counting all the addiction-related deaths from hepatitis, endocarditis and suicide — the nation’s leadership appears capable of only minor tweaks.

Some blue-leaning states and cities now offer evidence-backed practices such as supplying drug users with clean needles and fentanyl test strips, and even offering medically supervised spaces to inject illicit drugs — all of which foster important connections to professional care and wraparound services. But in much of the world’s richest nation, where a few million Americans suffer with opioid use disorder, these measures remain anathema.

The pandemic-prompted loosening of federal regulations for the telehealth prescribing of buprenorphine, the lifesaving addiction medication, has been a bright spot, particularly for rural people who have long struggled with transportation issues. But that policy change remains temporary and the treatment gap (with an estimated 10 to 12 percent of addicted people receiving treatment in an average year) has barely budged.

….

Epidemiologists predict that by 2029, U.S. overdose deaths will have doubled to nearly 2 million. Until we stop arresting and abandoning people who use drugs and start meeting them where they are with treatment and compassion, rare will be the family that remains untouched.

Author(s): Beth Macy

Publication Date: 24 Jan 2022

Publication Site: Washington Post

Federal prosecutors have been investigating D.C.’s pension board, responsible for $10 billion retirement fund

Link: https://www.washingtonpost.com/dc-md-va/2022/01/23/dc-pension-fund-investigation/

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Federal prosecutors have been investigating the financial transactions of the D.C. Retirement Board, which manages the city’s $10 billion pension fund for retired teachers, police officers and firefighters.

The fully funded municipal employee pension plan has long been the jewel in D.C.’s financial crown, the envy of other cities and a signal of the trustworthiness of the District’s finances to the credit rating agencies that issue municipal bond ratings.

….

The existence of the investigation was disclosed in a whistleblower lawsuit filed in December against the D.C. Retirement Board by Erie Sampson, the agency’s general counsel since 2008.

Sampson alleges that she was placed on administrative leave in October in retaliation for alerting officials at the retirement board and in D.C. government, including the city’s chief financial officer and members of the D.C. Council, about problems in the retirement board’s accounting and governance — as well as for cooperating with the federal investigation.

A spokesperson for the retirement board declined to comment, citing the ongoing litigation.

Author(s): Julie Zauzmer Weil

Publication Date: 23 Jan 2022

Publication Site: Washington Post

The tart truth underlying SALT repeal arguments

Link: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2021/09/18/tart-truth-underlying-salt-repeal-arguments/

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According to the Tax Foundation, just 13.7 percent of filers itemize their deductions — a prerequisite for deducting state and local taxes. Only at the top 10 percent of the income distribution do even a majority of taxpayers itemize. But among the top 1 percent of taxpayers, 92 percent do, and of course, their higher marginal tax rates make each deduction more valuable.

So it is these taxpayers whom the SALT deduction primarily benefits. According to Maya MacGuineas of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, households in the top 0.1 percent of earners would receive an average benefit of about $150,000, while those in the middle would get closer to $15. Repealing the caps would cost about $350 billion by 2026, and an estimated 85 percent of that revenue would end up in the pockets of the richest 5 percent of Americans.

You can probably think of many better uses of taxpayer money than giving a tax break to the most affluent people in the most affluent parts of the most affluent states in the country. Unless, of course, you are someone who would benefit from a larger SALT deduction. As, I admit, I would.

Author(s): Megan McArdle

Publication Date: 18 Sept 2021

Publication Site: Washington Post

Opinion: Pension plans — and the people they support — are in danger

Link: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/letters-to-the-editor/pension-plans–and-the-people-they-support–are-in-danger/2021/02/28/3b1282fe-777c-11eb-9489-8f7dacd51e75_story.html

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Contrary to the Feb. 18 editorial “Congress needs to focus its covid relief bill — on covid relief,” multiemployer pension plans have faced significant additional challenges caused by the ongoing global pandemic. It has jeopardized these plans’ ability to deliver hard-earned benefits to more than 1 million enrolled retirees and workers and must be addressed by lawmakers now. The shutdown of the U.S. economy has greatly amplified the financial struggle of these plans. Hundreds of employers are facing bankruptcy and cannot contribute to multiemployer pension funds; employees have lost their jobs; and the sharp drop in interest rates hit plans hard. Senior citizens and essential workers are disproportionately impacted by both the effects of the coronavirus and the multiemployer pension crisis.

As the United States looks to reopen and rebuild, maintaining the solvency of the multiemployer pension system will be key to economic recovery. The National Institute on Retirement Security concluded that the $44.2 billion in private pension benefit payments paid to retirees of multiemployer plans in 2018 supported $96.6 billion in overall economic output in the national economy and an estimated $14.7 billion in total tax revenue. The country can ill-afford a reduction in these revenue streams during the recovery period.

Author(s): James Hoffa

Publication Date: 28 February 2021

Publication Site: Washington Post