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From the monthly archives: December 2013

We are pleased to present below all posts archived in 'December 2013'. If you still can't find what you are looking for, try using the search box.

A Look Back on Chained CPI in 2013

We gathered all of our graphics pertaining to Chained CPI and put them all in one place for you. Prezi allows you to easily navigate through each infographic or photograph. Click here or the photograph below to see all the Chained CPI graphics we created in 2013.

Screen Shot 2013-12-31 at 9.55.49 AM


We hope everyone has a great New Year!

America's Jump From Economic Crisis to Retirement Crisis

Max Richtman recently wrote an article on Huffington Post:

Over and over again, America's seniors are being told they must foot the bill for fiscal failures which have already left them facing a weakened and tenuous retirement. In Detroit, a bankruptcy judge has ruled the city can cut pension payments to thousands of retirees, despite a state law stating otherwise. In Washington, the latest Congressional budget deal targets retirees with $12 billion in pension changes, including cutting pensions for military personnel who retire in 2015 and requiring new federal workers to contribute more to their retirement. All of this couldn't come at a worse time. Three decades of stagnant middle-class incomes, disappearing pensions, limited ability to start and maintain personal savings, and the failure of the 401K experiment lay the foundation for a retirement crisis that could further threaten millions of older Americans and their families.

According to the New School for Social Research, 75 percent of Americans nearing retirement have less than $30,000 in their retirement accounts. Almost half of middle-class workers will be poor or near poor in retirement and living on a $5-per-day food budget. The National Institute for Retirement Security reports four out of five working families have retirement savings less than one times their annual income and 45 percent do not have any retirement assets at all.

While Washington has been obsessed with the federal budget deficit, there's been virtually no Congressional conversation about the $6.8 trillion retirement savings deficit. What will happen to the millions of American families who are ill-prepared for retirement? There's almost no conversation about how to prevent this retirement crisis from impoverishing our families or about how younger generations will handle parents and grandparents who cannot support themselves. In spite of this current and growing retirement crisis, Social Security and Medicare, programs vital to a basic secure retirement, continue to be the favored targets for some in Congress who are determined to use benefit cuts to reduce the federal deficit.

Washington's almost single-minded focus on the budget deficit has allowed the retirement deficit to grow with each passing year. Rather than cutting vital programs like Social Security and Medicare to pay down a deficit these programs did not create, Washington should be looking for ways to address the retirement deficit head-on. Part of the solution includes raising Social Security benefits.

Thankfully, not everyone in Washington is blind to what's coming. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-CA) have sponsored legislation that would address Social Security's long-term solvency, eliminate the payroll tax cap over time while boosting benefits for all beneficiaries by approximately $70 per month, and switch the cost of living formula to the more accurate consumer price index for the elderly (CPI-E). Legislation proposed by Rep. Gwen Moore (D-WI) increases the minimum benefit to workers in low-wage jobs, provides a five percent benefit increase for the very old, and eliminates the payroll tax cap. Contrary to the popular rhetoric that we can't afford Social Security, both of these legislative proposals extend the solvency of Social Security while also increasing the program's already modest average monthly benefit of just $1,269.

America has the largest economy in the world, yet our seniors get lower retirement benefits than most other retirees throughout the world. Only three advanced nations provide less retirement security for their citizens which makes the argument that America can't afford to support our retirement safety net laughable. The truth is that we can't afford to ignore the retirement crisis and it certainly shouldn't be hastened by those in Washington driven by a political agenda to cut benefits -- no matter its consequences -- to millions of American families.

Ignoring the Truth (once again) about Senior Workers & Social Security

Kudos to Michael Hiltzik at the Los Angeles Times for his spot-on coverage of yesterday’s Senate Finance hearing on the retirement crisis, particularly one incredible moment of testimony that just begged to be slapped down.  And slap it down he did...

The conservative contempt for the working person shows through

By Michael Hiltzik

3:49 PM PST, December 18, 2013

At a hearing Wednesday of the Senate Finance Commmittee's Subcommittee on Social Security, conservative scholar Andrew G. Biggs made the following remark in defense of the idea that retirement ages can safely be raised:

"Go back to 1950, when we had a highly industrialized economy. You had coal miners, and farmers, and factory workers. The average age of initial Social Security claiming then was 68. Today, when your biggest on the job risk is, you know, carpal tunnel syndrome from your mouse or something like that, it’s 63. ...[T]he idea that we can’t have a higher retirement age, I think it just flies in the face of the fact that people did, in fact, retire later in the past, and today’s jobs are less physically demanding than they were in the past."

A couple of things about this. First, carpal tunnel syndrome, which Biggs seems to think is a big joke and an excuse for malingering, is no laughing matter to people who have it and for whom it can be a crippling condition. 

Second, the idea that older workers typically hold down office jobs or other comfy sinecures is fatuous and flatly untrue. The Center for Economic and Policy Research actually examined the numbers, mostly from the U.S. Census Bureau.  (Unlike, apparently, Biggs.)

What it found in 2010 was that 6.5 million workers, or 35% of those 58 and older, were employed in physically demanding jobs. This was defined as work requiring "handling and moving objects, spending significant time standing, or having any physically demanding work." Working conditions included "cramped workspace, labor outdoors, or exposure to abnormal temperatures, contaminants, hazardous equipment, or distracting or uncomfortable noise."

These are conditions you're not likely to encounter in a Senate committee room, unless you consider hot air to be an environmental menace.

Latino and black workers were overrepresented among older workers with these jobs.  

To be fair to Biggs, his remark about older workers was an offhand crack, a punchline to a straight line fed him by his questioner, Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) His prepared testimony for the committee was rather more measured.

Biggs is a resident scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, and a former deputy commissioner of Social Security, a post he was named to during the George W. Bush administration. He's been a Social Security scholar at the conservative Cato Institute too. 

Generally speaking he's one of the more intelligent and serious critics of Social Security on the right, which is not at all the same as saying he's a friend of the program as it exists today. He's advocated privatizing Social Security and converting it to something resembling a means-tested welfare program; either step would destroy what has been the most successful government program in American history.

But it's Biggs' reasonable veneer that makes his crack about older workers so telling. It reflects conservatives' failure not merely to empathize with older workers, but to learn anything about them before mouthing off. Instead of understanding, they offer contempt.

What the facts actually tell you is that raising the retirement age for Social Security -- it's already rising from 66 to 67 for people scheduled to retire from 2017 to 2022 -- is no easy nostrum for improving the program's finances. The CEPR's study pointed out that the cost of raising the retirement age falls especially hard on lower-income workers and minorities.

Those in physically demanding jobs would have to work longer in conditions that become progressively more difficult. Many would be driven to file for disability, placing added strains on a portion of Social Security already under intense financial pressure (which Congress has shown no signs of addressing).

This is another sign of the essential shallowness of our debate over Social Security. If conservative critics can't do better than to throw out airy misperceptions about the workforce conjured up in their Washington offices, why in heaven's name should anyone waste time listening to them? 

Permanent Doc Fix is Good News for Seniors in Medicare

Seniors’ Advocate Says Committee Passage of New Doctor Payment Formula is Long Overdue


Each year, America's seniors and their doctors wait and watch while a flawed formula passed by Congress more than a decade ago threatens double-digit cuts to Medicare physicians. This Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) formula is clearly inadequate and the House and Senate Committee votes to repeal it mark an important first step to improve Medicare payments to doctors while preserving seniors’ access to their trusted physicians. Replacing the current volume-based payment system with one that bases payments on the quality and efficiency of care is good news for seniors and for the Medicare program overall.

More work remains to be done as the House and Senate continue their efforts to find ways to pay for this legislation. Our top priority is to ensure those costs are not shifted to seniors in Medicare, half of whom live on incomes of less than $22,500 per year and already face high out-of-pocket health care costs.”...Max Richtman, NCPSSM President/CEO

The National Committee’s letter to the Senate Finance Committee is here

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