Most middle-class workers were already headed for an impoverished retirement — then came the coronavirus pandemic to speed up dawning of that gloomy tomorrow. So says economics professor and retirement security expert Teresa Ghilarducci in an interview with ThinkAdvisor, in which she discusses her new policy proposals to solve the acute retirement-security problem.
The labor economist, who teaches at The New School for Social Research, has long focused on the need to fix the U.S. retirement system, which she labels not only “broken” but “a disaster.”
In the interview, she argues that the pandemic has hurt older Americans’ retirement in big ways, especially that of laid-off workers who, for example, withdraw money from their retirement savings, fall into debt or receive Social Security benefits earlier.
Co-author of “Rescuing Retirement” (2018) — her co-writer was Tony James, executive vice chair of The Blackstone Group — Ghilarducci taught at Notre Dame for 25 years before joining The New School faculty in 2008.
She often testifies before Congress, and her pension-reform proposal, a Guaranteed Retirement Account, was named by The New York Times “one of the defining ideas of 2008.”
In the interview, she is optimistic that a Joe Biden presidency will welcome ideas to repair and reform the nation’s retirement system. Hence, she’ll waste no time in proposing her sweeping new package of policies to the upcoming administration and Congress.
The policies were generated by research conducted by the Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis, of which Ghilarducci is director.
They address both the coronavirus-induced recession and long-term reform, the latter including establishment of an Older Workers’ Bureau at the Labor Department in light of the “growing and permanent presence of older workers in the labor force.”
ThinkAdvisor recently held a phone interview with the professor, who was speaking from New York City. Part of the conversation revolved around her suggestions for how financial advisors can help clients whose parents find themselves needing money. There are, she says, “warning signs” for not making such a gift.
Here are highlights of our interview:
THINKADVISOR: How will Joe Biden’s presidency affect Americans’ security in retirement?
TERESA GHILARDUCCI: The Biden leadership bodes really well for the status of retirement security. There’s no question that Biden and the Democratic Party thought deeply about this and proposed some workable solutions.
They had many pages of detailed plans about how to expand Social Security and shore up Medicare, as well as lowering the Medicare age, which would be extremely helpful to workers in this pandemic. The Republican platform had nothing about retirement security except their 2016 statement that basically said we need to cut Social Security benefits.
How has the coronavirus pandemic impacted older people’s potential retirement income?
It accelerated the downward-mobility trend of most middle-class older workers, who, even before the pandemic, expected to be poor or near-poor in retirement.
How did it do that?
Older workers have lost their jobs and are leaving the labor force at a faster pace than younger workers, which hasn’t happened in 50 years. [One aspect is that] older workers are much more exposed to severe illness if they go to work because of the nature of the coronavirus.
How chiefly does job loss amid the pandemic hurt their retirement?
In four main ways: They draw down whatever little retirement wealth they have in order to bridge the [gap] before they collect Social Security. They go into debt. They collect Social Security at earlier ages. And because they’ve lost their jobs, they don’t accumulate retirement wealth as they’d expected.
Is your proposed pension-style Guaranteed Retirement Account — which would mandate employees and employers to contribute 3% of wages for income supplemental to Social Security — a solution to this problem?
It’s part of it. We’re proposing to the incoming Congress and President [Biden] a comprehensive package of solutions generated from research we’ve done at [The New School’s Schwarz Center for Economic Policy Analysis]. Some policies deal with the short-term effects of COVID-19 and the recession; others address the long-term trends and are part of comprehensive reform. One of [the latter] is the GRA, for sure.
What are the salient policies?
The first is that we have to extend unemployment benefits to everybody, especially older workers because they take [more] time to find new jobs. The second is to lower the Medicare age to 50. Third, we need to mandate paid leave. That’s [already in effect] if you have a COVID-19-related disease, but we should have paid leave for all workers.