Insights Blog

The SCEPA Quarterly

April 3, 2024

SCEPA’s quarterly review of research, ideas, and resources on retirement and older workers.

The SCEPA Quarterly

SCEPA’s quarterly review of research, ideas, and resources on retirement and older workers.

Welcome to the inaugural edition of SCEPA’s new quarterly newsletter! In The SCEPA Quarterly, you’ll find some of our latest research and analysis; thought-provoking facts we’ve dug up; recommended readings, things that caught our eye; and a quick roundup of recent SCEPA headlines. We hope you find this quarterly (inbox-friendly!) newsletter a useful trove of insights and resources. Thank you for reading and engaging!

SCEPA Headlines

SCEPA and the City University of New York launched an exciting partnership, the New York Retirement and Disability Research Center. This five-year project “will help the Social Security Administration pursue policies that improve the lives of millions of people in New York and across the country,” said CUNY Chancellor Félix V. Matos Rodríguez. 

SCEPA Director Teresa Ghilarducci’s new book, Work, Retire, Repeat,” is out and making headlines — and making the case for retirement equity, pensions for all, and a Gray New Deal to address elder poverty and the needs of older workers and retirees. 




The Retirement Savings for All Americans Act, bipartisan legislation influenced by SCEPA research and our work with the Economic Innovation Group, is moving forward in the Senate and House. 

As lead witness for Senator Bernie Sanders, Teresa Ghilarducci testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Employment, Labor, and Pensions. Check out her full testimony here, and a video here (her comments begin at the 22 minute mark).  


The Takeaway

Who’s taking care of America’s booming elderly population, particularly the millions of older folks who are economically precarious? As we examine the financial fragilities of older Americans, we are increasingly concerned with our nation’s eldercare system. In a recent groundbreaking report, SCEPA research analyst Jessica Forden and director Teresa Ghilarducci find troubling gaps in eldercare provision: 8.3 million people, or 42 percent of adults who have difficulty with tasks like getting dressed, using the toilet, or preparing meals did not receive any help in 2020 (the latest data available).

Even as millions of people who need care go without, the impact of our inadequate eldercare system extends to those who provide care. Unpaid care work — which comprises most such labor in the United States — is primarily shouldered by economically vulnerable people. The costs associated with unpaid care work compound existing economic insecurity, leading to higher rates of poverty in old age. Such costs go beyond the simple summation of time spent providing such care. Secondary impacts, such as the opportunity cost of not working, add to the loss of financial resources for caregivers.

We’re also digging deep into long-term unemployment, developing a more comprehensive and inclusive “U-7” measure that captures the realities of millions who have stopped looking for work. For instance, SCEPA’s more inclusive U-7 measure counts 14.3 million unemployed in November 2023 — three million more than BLS found. For more detail on this research, check out Drystan Phillips’ report, “Hidden and Persistent Unemployment Among Older Workers.”

How do we create a “bridge” to retirement security for the millions of older Americans who, under economic duress, claim Social Security early to make ends meet? Recent research by Teresa Ghilarducci shows that over one-fifth of eligible people claim before their full retirement age and over 90 percent claim before the maximum age of 70, significantly reducing their benefits. A formalized Social Security Bridge option would allow beneficiaries who have some retirement savings to boost monthly benefits and help protect against downward mobility in retirement.

Nota Bene: Did You Know?

  • 40% of households with the lowest incomes get less than 4% of the federal government tax breaks for retirement saving but the richest 20% get almost 60% of all the tax breaks. And the well-off aren't even saving more for retirement, they are mostly shifting money around to avoid taxes. The current tax breaks for retirement accounts are a bad deal for most taxpayers. See The Case for Using Subsidies for Retirement Plans to Fix Social Security (
  • Women aged 55 and older account for more than one-third (35.3%) of all people providing unpaid eldercare in the U.S. Among paid caregivers, 36% of home health aides and 33% of personal care aides are women 55 and older (more than the average of all workers in the economy–24%).
  • Americans’ life expectancy continues to decline to its lowest point in two decades, even while other countries have rebounded from COVID-related declines; this has a direct impact on any attempt to increase the age of retirement.

What We’re Reading

& Teresa Ghilarducci: These days I am reading a lot of medical and gerontology papers about how many health benefits people who retire get. The Europeans are more suspicious of the claims that working in your sixties and seventies is good for you. A Dutch study found older workers with those with low reward to effort ratios get sicker faster. People who stay in jobs with low reward-to-effort ratios worsen their health more than people who retire.

& Jessica Forden: I've been reading and thinking about care in the economy, including Nancy Folbre's recent publication in the Journal of Economic Perspectives, “Care Provision and the Boundaries of Production." Folbre offers some interesting insights on measuring success in care policies, as well as challenging us to think about care policy more interconnectedly rather than as one-off amenities.

& Karthik Manickam recommends this fascinating paper by Aline Grunewald, “From Benefits and Beneficiaries: The Historical Origins of Old-Age Pensions from a Political Regime Perspective.” This analysis shows how pension systems are institutions with historical and political economy dimensions, which are just as important as their fiscal sustainability and function.

& Drystan Phillips liked this Washington Post poll and follow-up article showing that 87% of respondents said being middle class means being able to retire comfortably. Their analysis found that the most common barrier to classifying as middle class was being able to retire comfortably, finding that only 51% of people aged 35 and older would be able to retire comfortably.

& Christopher Cook recommends checking out Senator Bernie Sanders’ report on America’s retirement crisis, released just before Senate HELP Committee hearings where Teresa testified, highlighting critical challenges and potential solutions.

SCEPA In the News

& Check out this great review of Teresa Ghilarducci’s new book, in The New York Times!

& SCEPA’s partnership with the City University of New York in creating the Retirement and Disability Research Consortium was covered by The Ticker.

& NPR’s MarketWatch covered SCEPA research associate Drystan Phillip’s report on unemployment rates and older workers.

& SCEPA research analyst Jessica Forden’s report on how the basic needs of millions of older Americans are going unmet was covered by McKnight’s Long Term Care News.