Sunday, December 30, 2012

2012: Research Year in Review

As we close out 2012, and embark upon a new set of challenges in 2013, this week’s EBRIef offers a roundup of our 2012 research.  Best wishes for a Happy and Prosperous New Year!

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What’s New(s) – Health & Workforce

“Findings from the 2012 EBRI/MGA Consumer Engagement in Health Care Survey”  MORE.

"Views on Employment-Based Health Benefits: Findings from the 2012 Health Confidence Survey"  MORE. 

“Self-Insured Health Plans: State Variation and Recent Trends by Firm Size”  MORE.

'Savings Needed for Health Expenses for People Eligible for Medicare: Some Rare Good News,' and 'IRA Asset Allocation, 2010'  MORE.

Employment-Based Retiree Health Benefits: Trends in Access and Coverage, 1997-2010”  MORE. 

“Sources of Health Insurance and Characteristics of the Uninsured: Analysis of the March 2012 Current Population Survey”  MORE.

"2012 Health Confidence Survey: Americans Remain Confident About Health Care, Concerned About Costs, Following Supreme Court Decision"  MORE.

"Satisfaction With Health Coverage and Care: Findings from the 2011 EBRI/MGA Consumer Engagement in Health Care Survey"  MORE.

 “Private Health Insurance Exchanges and Defined Contribution Health Plans: Is It Déjà Vu All Over Again?”   MORE.

'Health Plan Choice: Findings from the 2011 EBRI/MGA Consumer Engagement in Health Care Survey'  MORE.

'Use of Health Care Services and Access Issues by Type of Health Plan: Findings from the EBRI/MGA Consumer Engagement in Health Care Survey'  MORE.

"Trends in Employment-Based Coverage Among Workers, and Access to Coverage Among Uninsured Workers, 1995-2011"  MORE.

'Characteristics of the Population With Consumer-Driven and High-Deductible Health Plans, 2005–2011'  MORE.

“Employment-Based Health Benefits: Trends in Access and Coverage, 1997-2010”  MORE.

‘Trends in Health Coverage for Part-Time Workers’  MORE.    

'Employer and Worker Contributions to Health Savings Accounts and Health Reimbursement Arrangements, 2006–2011'  MORE.

“Health Savings Accounts and Health Reimbursement Arrangements: Assets, Account Balances, and Rollovers, 2006–2011”  MORE.

'The Impact of PPACA on Employment-Based Health Coverage of Adult Children to Age 26'  MORE

What’s New(s) – Retirement

“401(k) Plan Asset Allocation, Account Balances, and Loan Activity in 2011”  MORE.

"Employee Tenure Trends, 1983–2012"  MORE.

“All or Nothing? An Expanded Perspective on Retirement Readiness”  MORE.

 “Employment-Based Retirement Plan Participation: Geographic Differences and Trends, 2011”  MORE.

'IRA Asset Allocation, 2010'  MORE.

“Individual Account Retirement Plans: An Analysis of the 2010 Survey of Consumer Finances”  MORE.

"Increasing Default Deferral Rates in Automatic Enrollment 401(k) Plans: The Impact on Retirement Savings Success in Plans With Automatic Escalation"  MORE.

"Is Working to Age 70 Really the Answer for Retirement Income Adequacy?"  MORE.

““After” Math: The Impact and Influence of Incentives on Benefit Policy”  MORE

'Own-to-Rent Transitions and Changes in Housing Equity for Older Americans'  MORE.

'Retirement Readiness Ratings and Retirement Savings Shortfalls for Gen Xers: The Impact of Eligibility for Participation in a 401(k) Plan'  MORE.  

“Effects of Nursing Home Stays on Household Portfolios”  MORE.

“Individual Retirement Account Balances, Contributions, and Rollovers, 2010: The EBRI IRA DatabaseTM”  MORE

"Retirement Income Adequacy for Boomers and Gen Xers: Evidence from the 2012 EBRI Retirement Security Projection Model®"  MORE

'Time Trends in Poverty for Older Americans Between 2001–2009'  MORE

‘Modifying the Federal Tax Treatment of 401(k) Plan Contributions: Projected Impact on Participant Account Balances’  MORE.

 “The 2012 Retirement Confidence Survey: Job Insecurity, Debt Weigh on Retirement Confidence, Savings”  MORE.

'Labor-force Participation Rates of the Population Age 55 and Older, 2011: After the Economic Downturn'  MORE.
“Expenditure Patterns of Older Americans, 2001-2009”  MORE.

'Spending Adjustments Made By Older Americans to Save Money'  MORE.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Making a List

Years agowhen my kids were still kidswe discovered an ingenious Web site1 that purported to offer a real-time assessment of your “naughty or nice” status.
As parents, we rarely invoked the name of Santa to encourage good behavior, and for the very most part our children didn’t require much “redirection.” But no tone of voice or physical threat ever had the impact of that Web siteif not on their behaviors (they were kids, after all), then certainly on the level of their concern about the consequences. In fact, in one of his final years as a “believer,” my son (who, it must be acknowledged, had been PARTICULARLY naughty that December) was on the verge of tears, worried that he’d find nothing under the Christmas tree but the coal and the bundle of switches he surely deserved.
One could argue that many participants still act as though some kind of benevolent elf will drop down their chimney with a bag full of cold cash from the North Pole, that somehow, their bad savings behaviors throughout the year(s) notwithstanding, they’ll be able to pull the wool over the eyes of a myopic, portly gentleman in a red snow suit.
Next month we’ll field the 23rd annual version of the Retirement Confidence Survey,2 where we will, among other things, seek to gain a sense of American workers’ preparation for (and confidence about) retirement, as well as some idea as to how those already retired view the adequacy of their own preparations. In previous years we’ve seen confidence wax stronger and then waneand we’ve seen distressingly low levels of preparation that sometimes seem at odds with the high confidence expressed. However, in wake of the Great Recession, we’ve also seen a growing awareness of the need for those preparations,3 and cognizance of the challenge in doing so. We’ve also seen regrets that more wasn’t done earlier, at a time when the options were greater, and time an asset.
Ultimately, the volume of presents under our Christmas tree never really had anything to do with our kids’ behavior. As parents, we nurtured their belief in Santa Claus as long as we thought we could (without subjecting them to the ridicule of their classmates), not because we expected it to modify their behavior (though we hoped, from time to time), but because kids should have a chance to believe, if only for a little while, in those kinds of possibilities.
We all live in a world of possibilities, of course. But as adults we realize—or should realize—that those possibilities are frequently bounded in by the reality of our behaviors.
Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus—but he looks a lot like you, assisted by “helpers” like the employer match, tax incentives, automatic enrollment and deferral increases, and qualified default investment alternatives.
Nevin E. Adams, JD
(1) The Naughty or Nice site is STILL online, here.
(2) More information about the Retirement Confidence Survey, as well as results from prior years, is available online here.
(3) That first step on that path, and it’s a critical one, is to Choose to Save.® A great place to start those preparations figuring out quickly what you’ll need is the BallparkE$timate,® available online here. Organizations interested in building/reinforcing a workplace savings campaign can find free resources—and a handy schedule of events around which to construct a program—courtesy of the American Savings Education Council (ASEC). Choose to Save® is sponsored by the nonprofit, nonpartisan Employee Benefit Research Institute Education and Research Fund (EBRI-ERF) and one of its programs, the American Savings Education Council (ASEC). The Website and materials development have been underwritten through generous grants and additional support from EBRI Members and ASEC Partner institutions.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Covered “Call”

Sooner or later, at just about every retirement plan conference, you’ll hear someone—and generally more than just one someone—cite the statistic that “only about half of working Americans are covered by a workplace retirement plan.”

It’s a data point that is widely and openly presented as fact—not only by those inclined to dismiss the current system as inadequate (or worse), but even by some of its most ardent champions, who see it as a call to action for expanded access to these programs. It’s drawn from the U.S. Census Bureau’s March 2012 Current Population Survey (CPS).(1) But does it tell the full story?

A recent EBRI Issue Brief notes that in 2011, 78.5 million workers worked for an employer/union that did not sponsor a retirement plan. Looking specifically at those who did not work for an employer that sponsored a plan, the report notes that:
  • 8.9 million were self-employed (and were thus barred from having a plan by their own inaction).
  • 6.2 million were under the age of 21 (below ERISA’s mandated coverage level).
  • 3.9 million were age 65 or older (beyond “normal” retirement age).
  • Just over 31 million were not full-time, full-year workers.
  • 16.8 million had annual earnings of less than $10,000.
Taking those factors(2) into account, it’s not hard to see why a large percentage of the 78.5 million people who worked for an employer that did not sponsor a plan—roughly 66.8 million in 2011, based on the CPS estimates above—might not be covered by a workplace plan for reasons that have little to do with the efficiency or efficacy of the current retirement plan structure.

When you filter out the overlap between those categories—situations where workers fall into several of those categories simultaneously (for example, workers who are under age 21, have less than $10,000 in annual earnings, and who are not a full-time, full-year worker)—there are about 42.4 million workers whose lack of coverage might be attributed to being in one or more of those categories. And yes, that’s more than half of the “uncovered” workers in the CPS analysis.

Indeed, while claiming that “fewer than half of working Americans have access to a workplace retirement plan” might be technically accurate, doing so exaggerates the size of the coverage “gap”—and obscures factors that might actually help explain it.

Nevin E. Adams, JD

(1) A similar result can be gleaned from the National Compensation Survey from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

(2) There are other factors linked to rates of participation. For example, the EBRI Issue Brief also notes a correlation between firm size and participation. See Figure 30 in “Employment-Based Retirement Plan Participation; Geographic Differences and Trends, 2010.”


Sunday, December 09, 2012

“Next” Step

On December 13, EBRI will hold its 71st biannual policy forum, “’Post’ Script: What’s Next for Employment-Based Health Benefits?” It is a question that has been on the mind of employers, lawmakers and policymakers alike for some time now. It predates the time that the structure for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) was put in place, has evolved, but not been resolved, as regulations were, and continue to be issued subsequent to its passage. It has remained on the minds of employers, providers, and policymakers following the various courts’ assessment of the various challenges to the constitutionality of the law, and even as the nation went to the polls last month.

Today we know more than we once did about certain aspects of the law, its provisions and applications.¹And yet there is much yet to know about its broader implementation: How the insurance exchanges might work,² for example, or how their presence might affect or influence cost, access, or employer plan designs. Will employers step away from their traditional role in providing these benefits, or will these changes lead to an environment in which employers find them to be of even greater value to their retention programs and strategies? In addition, an overarching concern at present—not just for health benefits, but workplace benefits overall—is the potential impact that changes in tax policy³ could have on these programs, both direct and indirect.

Our next policy forum will bring together a wide range of national experts on U.S. healthcare policy to share a post-election perspective on fiscal impacts from the federal budget, findings from the EBRI Center for Research on Health Benefits Innovation, and a sense of how employment-based health benefits might evolve as a result of the changes set to come.

In a field as complex and sensitive as healthcare policy, we may not always know “what’s next”—but it’s our hope that the information, and interaction, at the EBRI policy forum will provide insights and clarity that can help.

EBRI’s 71st biannual Policy Forum will be held on Thursday, Dec. 13, from 9:00 a.m.–12:30 p.m. at the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, 1330 G Street NW, Washington, DC 20005. The agenda and registration information are available online here. For those not able to attend in person, a free live webcast of the policy forum will be provided by the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans, online here.

Nevin E. Adams, JD

¹ A summary of EBRI Research on PPACA and its Potential Impact on Private-Sector Health Benefits is available online here. Of specific topical interest are:
² For insights on the topic of health insurance exchanges, see “Private Health Insurance Exchanges and Defined Contribution Health Plans: Is It Déjà Vu All Over Again?” online here.

³ See “Employment-Based Health Benefits and Taxation: Implications of Efforts to Reduce the Deficit and National Debt,” online here.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

The “Big” Picture

A recent EBRI Issue Brief examined trends in employment-based retirement plan participation, noting that in 2011, the percentage of all workers participating in an employment-based retirement plan was essentially unchanged from the year before. More specifically, the percentage of all workers (including part-time and self-employed) participating in an employment-based retirement plan¹ stood at 39.7 percent in 2011, compared with 39.8 percent in 2010.² At the same time, the percentage of full-time, full-year wage and salary workers ages 21–64 (those most likely to be offered a retirement plan at work) saw a slight decline, slipping from 54.5 percent in 2010 to 53.7 percent in 2011.

While those movements were very small, the increase in the number of workers participating in 2011 halted a three-year decline. Moreover, it’s not as though this gauge has shown a steady trend, even in recent history. When you take into account all workers, the percentage participating in an employment-based retirement plan reached 44.4 percent in 2000, but declined to 39.7 percent in 2006, before increasing to 41.5 percent in 2007—the highest level since 2004, before then slipping back to 39.6 percent in 2009.³

When you look inside the overall numbers, we find that some categories examined had increases in the probability of workers participating and others showed decreases. Not only does the status as a full-time or part-time worker have a major impact on participation rates, the report notes, so does the demographic characteristics of the individual worker, the type and size of their employer, and even their physical location (workers in the South and West were less likely to participate in a plan than those in other regions of the country, for example).

Looking at the overall percentage of females participating in a plan, you might notice that it was lower than that of males—but when you control for aspects such as work status or earnings, the female participation level actually surpasses that of males. If you look only at the participation rate of Hispanics as a group, they appear to lag other groups significantly in terms of retirement plan participation. However, it turns out that only the nonnative Hispanics actually have participation levels substantially below those of all other workers. In fact, nonnative-born Hispanics had substantially lower participation levels than native-born Hispanics, even when controlling for age and earnings.

In responding to big issues, it’s sometimes tempting to look at data only in the aggregate, and in the press of time, to draw broad conclusions from trend lines over remarkably recent history, trying to get a sense of the “big picture.” But as the data above suggest, a “better” picture is often drawn from an analysis of the component parts that make up that big picture, balanced with an appreciation for longer-term trends.

Nevin E. Adams, JD

¹ The number of workers participating in an employment-based retirement plan increased from 60.7 million in 2010 to 61.0 million in 2011, returning to the 2009 level, the second lowest since 1997 and well below the 67.1 million workers who participated in a plan in 2000, the peak year for the number of workers participating in a plan from 1987–2011.

² “All workers” is the broadest work force population group, including those not covered by a retirement plan. A more restrictive definition of the work force, which more closely resembles the types of workers who generally must be covered by a retirement plan in accordance with the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), is the work force of full-time, full-year wage and salary workers ages 21–64. Under this definition, 60.8 percent of these workers worked for an employer sponsoring a plan, and 53.7 percent of them participated in a retirement plan.

³ An important public-policy topic associated with an analysis of employment-based retirement plan participation is the number of workers who are not participants, as well as the number of those who work for employers/unions that do not sponsor a plan. For example, when taking into account only workers who work full-time, full-year, make $10,000 or more in annual earnings, and work for an employer with 100 or more employees, 15.1 million (or 25.2 percent of the defined population) would be included among those working for an employer that did not sponsor a plan. Another way to look at this last number is that 74.8 percent of workers with those characteristics worked for an employer that did sponsor a retirement plan in 2011. This is explained in more detail on page 30 of the November 2012 EBRI Issue Brief, “Employment-Based Retirement Plan Participation: Geographic Differences and Trends, 2011,” online here. See also “’Under’ Covered,” online here.