Panel: Social Security, Labor Market Institutions, and Older Workers
(Poverty and Income Policy)

Friday, November 3, 2017: 8:30 AM-10:00 AM
Field (Hyatt Regency Chicago)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Panel Organizers:  Matthew S. Rutledge, Boston College
Panel Chairs:  Matthew S. Rutledge, Boston College
Discussants:  Damon Jones, University of Chicago and Kathryn Edwards, RAND Corporation

The Effects of the Early Retirement Age on Retirement Decisions
Day Manoli, National Bureau of Economic Research; University of Texas and Andrea Weber, Vienna University of Economics and Business; CEPR; IZA Bonn

Older Workers and the Great Recession: A Comparative View
Benjamin Danforth, Social Security Administration

How Secure Is the Retirement of Contingent Workers?
Matthew S. Rutledge, Geoffrey T. Sanzenbacher and Alice Zulkarnain, Boston College

Retirement ages are increasing throughout the world.  This increase reflects improved health and longer life expectancy and, perhaps, improved opportunities for older workers.  But it also reflects decreases in the generosity of social insurance programs, weakness in other savings vehicles such as employer-sponsored retirement plans, and the lasting negative effects of the Great Recession on retirement security.  Decomposing the increase in working at older ages into these root causes is essential for understanding how changes in the labor market, in public programs, and in the composition of the potential workforce are likely to affect late-life well-being going forward.  But such a decomposition has proven difficult, given that many of these factors are changing simultaneously, and sometimes in concert.

The studies in this panel aim to fit this year’s APPAM conference theme of improving the measurement of issues that are already well-understood to be essential to making good public policy.  They each address how social security programs and labor market structures influence income and wealth accumulation for older individuals, with each study taking a novel approach to measuring this influence. 

Two of these studies use natural experiments created by social insurance policy changes to examine the influence of social security benefits on the retirement decision and other labor market outcomes.  Manoli and Weber examine how retirement timing changed around the extension of the Early Retirement Age in Austria, using high-quality administrative data.  Armour examines how providing older Americans with better information about their potential Social Security benefits – exploiting variation in who received Social Security statements, and when – influences their expected retirement age, their saving rate, and their work behavior.

Another study – Danforth – uses harmonized data across countries to examine the differential impact of the Great Recession on labor market outcomes for individuals ages 50 and older, and the extent to which each country’s social insurance system helped minimize the harm done by the downturn.  Finally, Rutledge, Sanzenbacher, and Zulkarnain provide the first comprehensive estimates of how the growing prevalence of contingent work – temp or on-call work, independent contracting and consulting, and the gig economy – influences retirement saving and Social Security wealth, using previously underutilized data from household surveys.

The results from these studies will help to inform policymakers of how changes in labor market institutions, and reforms that have already been enacted for social insurance systems, will affect retirement well-being going forward.  The panel discussion will also suggest ways in which further reform to public policy and employer practice can help improve retirement security.

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