Is Uncle Sam Inducing the Elderly to Retire?

77 Pages Posted: 31 Oct 2016 Last revised: 26 Nov 2018

See all articles by Alan J. Auerbach

Alan J. Auerbach

University of California, Berkeley - Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER); CESifo (Center for Economic Studies and Ifo Institute for Economic Research)

Laurence J. Kotlikoff

Boston University - Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER); Gaidar Institute for Economic Policy

Darryl Koehler

Economic Security Planning

Manni Yu

Boston University

Date Written: October 2016

Abstract

Many, if not most, Baby Boomers appear at risk of suffering a major decline in their living standard in retirement. With federal and state government finances far too encumbered to significantly raise Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid benefits, Boomers must look to their own devices to rescue their retirements, namely working harder and longer. However, the incentive of Boomers to earn more is significantly limited by a plethora of explicit federal and state taxes and implicit taxes arising from the loss of federal and state benefits as one earns more. Of particular concern is Medicaid and Social Security’s complex Earnings Test and clawback of disability benefits. This study measures the work disincentives confronting those age 50 to 79 from the entire array of explicit and implicit fiscal work disincentives. Specifically, the paper runs older respondents in the Federal Reserve’s 2013 Survey of Consumer Finances through The Fiscal Analyzer -- a software tool designed, in part, to calculate remaining lifetime marginal net tax rates. We find that working longer, say an extra five years, can raise older workers’ sustainable living standards. But the impact is far smaller than suggested in the literature in large part because of high net taxation of labor earnings. We also find that many Baby Boomers now face or will face high and, in very many cases, extremely high work disincentives arising from the hodgepodge design of our fiscal system. A third finding is that the marginal net tax rate associated with a significant increase in earnings, say $20,000 per year, arising from taking a full-time or part-time job (which could a second job), can, for many elderly, be dramatically higher than that associated with earning a relatively small, say $1,000 per year, extra amount of money. This is due to the various income thresholds in our fiscal system. We also examine the elimination of all transfer program asset and income testing. This dramatically lowers marginal net tax rates facing the poor. Another key finding is the enormous dispersion in effective marginal remaining lifetime net tax rates facing seeming identical households, i.e., households with the same age and resource level. Finally, we find that traditional, current-year (i.e., static) marginal tax calculations relating this year’s extra taxes to this year’s extra income are woefully off target when it comes to properly measuring the elderly’s disincentives to work. Our findings suggest that Uncle Sam is, indeed, inducing the elderly to retire.

Suggested Citation

Auerbach, Alan Jeffrey and Kotlikoff, Laurence J. and Koehler, Darryl and Yu, Manni, Is Uncle Sam Inducing the Elderly to Retire? (October 2016). NBER Working Paper No. w22770. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2861702

Alan Jeffrey Auerbach (Contact Author)

University of California, Berkeley - Department of Economics ( email )

549 Evans Hall #3880
Berkeley, CA 94720-3880
United States
510-643-0711 (Phone)
510-643-0413 (Fax)

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) ( email )

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CESifo (Center for Economic Studies and Ifo Institute for Economic Research)

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Germany

Laurence J. Kotlikoff

Boston University - Department of Economics ( email )

270 Bay State Road
Boston, MA 02215
United States
617-353-4002 (Phone)
617-353-4449 (Fax)

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Gaidar Institute for Economic Policy

Gazetny per. 5-3
Moscow, 125993
Russia

Darryl Koehler

Economic Security Planning ( email )

416 S. Ludington Street
Columbus, WI 53925
United States

Manni Yu

Boston University ( email )

595 Commonwealth Avenue
Boston, MA 02215
United States

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