Retirement Implications of a Low Wage Growth, Low Real Interest Rate Economy
40 Pages Posted: 19 Feb 2019 Last revised: 1 May 2021
Date Written: February 2019
We examine the implications of persistent low real interest rates and wage growth rates on individuals nearing retirement. We begin by reviewing the concept of r star – the long-term real, safe interest rate that is neither expansionary nor contractionary – and presenting recent estimates suggesting that this value has declined. We then examine the implications of low returns and low wage growth for individuals currently aged 45 and 55. We find that low returns and low wage growth have substantial welfare effects, with compensating variations that are often in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Low returns increase optimal Social Security claiming ages and the marginal benefit of working longer, while low wage growth decreases the marginal benefit of working longer. Low economy-wide wage growth has a much larger welfare effect than low individual wage growth due to wage indexation of the initial benefit and the progressivity of the Social Security benefit formula. When individual wage growth alone is low, wage indexation is unchanged, and the progressivity of the benefit formula provides insurance. When economy-wide wage growth is low, wage indexation is less generous and there is no insurance benefit from progressivity as average wages fall along with individual wages.
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