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Working Paper| Since 1992 wealth for the bottom 90% of households nearing retirement has fallen. Using SCF and HRS data over 20 years, we find the bulk of working-class wealth is government social insurance. Economists should not exclude social insurance from wealth calculations. We find social insurance is the most important source of wealth for most families. Government policies and institutions have failed wealth building for most American households with workers.

By: Teresa Ghilarducci, Siavash Radpour, and Jessica Forden

The only source of wealth helping the bottom 90% is Social Security. Despite pro savings policies and generous tax breaks for savings, the share of the bottom 50% having any retirement account didn’t change in 20 years -- 46% in 1992 and 47% in 2016. Even the middle class suffered with the share of the next 40% having retirement savings that fell from 85% in 1992 to a low of 71% in 2016. Housing ownership increased a bit for the bottom 50% but fell among the middle class and upper middle class. Home equity for the working and middle class fell. 

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Paper | This paper assesses economics research and teaching frameworks in the United States by examining how knowledge is produced and ranked, the flaws and strengths of heterodox economic theory; and how students are trained, especially for careers in economic policy. 

Policy Note | Challenging the widespread assumption that people claim their retirement benefits only when they retire, more than one-fifth of older workers in the United States start claiming Social Security benefits as soon as they are eligible, even while working for pay. Low-income older workers are more than three times as likely as high-income workers to claim early, indicating a reliance on Social Security payments to supplement low wages. Those who claim before the full retirement age (also known as the Normal Retirement Age) will receive reduced benefits throughout their lives, leaving them financially vulnerable once they stop working. Because so many older workers collect reduced Social Security benefits, raising the retirement age will have little effect on getting people to work longer and will simply reduce benefits further. Instead, reforms should focus on policies like creating an Older Workers Bureau to support work at older ages, and bolstering Social Security benefits for those who risk falling into poverty in retirement.

Book | This book explores the myriad challenges of climate change and in reaching a low-carbon economy. It develops a framework for dynamic macroeconomic modeling for the climate-economy interaction, presents empirical trends in carbon-emitting resource use, and discusses policy strategies for sustainable growth under global climate change constraints.

Working Paper | This article documents risks and disparities among older workers in the labor force and in retirement preparedness and explores the links between labor market challenges facing older workers and retirement insecurity.

Policy Note | In the United States, high overall rates of home ownership among households aged 55–64 obscure a vital reality. Many low-income older households risk financial fragility because they are renters and high rent burdens inhibit their ability to save for emergencies. Even middle- and high-income households who own their own homes risk housing-related financial fragility due to high mortgage debt. Overall rates of financial fragility, which include non-housing debt and emergency savings, remain high for all older households regardless of income. Our policy recommendations focus on supporting higher wages, solidifying emergency savings, and reforming the retirement system to reduce financial fragility at older ages. 

Policy Note | Unpaid care work — the vast majority of such work 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. It is essential to support informal caregivers by recognizing caregiving as work and expanding their access to social safety net programs and providing paid family care leave.