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Caring for Caregivers in Retirement: Social Security Works for Direct Care Workers

July 18, 2012

Social Security provides the basic foundation for the economic security of retired workers, workers who become disabled before retiring, and the children and spouses of workers who die or become disabled. Social Security is particularly important for workers, such as most direct care workers, who received modest compensation for the work they did during their working years. This issue brief looks at the importance of Social Security and how proposed cuts to the program would hurt direct care workers.

Maintaining and Improving Social Security for Direct Care Workers

November 9, 2011

America's more than three million direct care workers (DCWs) -- a category that includes nursing assistants, home health aides, and personal and home care aides -- play a crucial role in maintaining the health and economic security of elderly retirees and people with disabilities. Yet, they are among the most poorly compensated and economically insecure workers in the United States.Only about one in every four direct care workers have employer-provided retirement benefits. When these workers themselves retire or become disabled, many of them will rely almost exclusively on modest Social Security benefits to keep a roof over their heads and meet other basic living expenses.Some recent proposals to cut Social Security would put the retirement security of direct care workers -- and millions of other workers in poorly compensated jobs -- at risk. Instead of cutting Social Security benefits, the federal government should strengthen Social Security in ways that increase retirement security, particularly for retirees who have worked in poorly compensated jobs and typically have little or no retirement savings outside of Social Security.This brief provides direct care workers and their allies with information they can use to become engaged in efforts to maintain and strengthen Social Security. After providing background on how Social Security works and why today's direct care workers can count on it being there for them when they retire, it details some troubling recent proposals that would cut Social Security benefits. The final section way to improve Social Security and increase the retirement security of direct care workers.

Maintaining and Improving Social Security for Poorly Compensated Workers

November 2, 2011

Millions of American workers are poorly compensated for the work they do. This is not because they do not work hard or deserve adequate compensation. Rather, it is due to a political failure to ensure that increases in economic growth and productivity over the last several decades have been fairly distributed. One consequence of this failure is that many working-class Americans do not enjoy the living standards they deserve either during their working years or when they retire. Without the earned benefits provided by Social Security, along with Medicare and related health insurance benefits for the elderly, these workers would see their already modest living standards in old age fall even further below typical ones.The federal government should strengthen Social Security in ways that increase the retirement security of middle and working-class Americans. Particular attention should be paid to improving the living standards in retirement of workers in poorly compensated jobs, who typically have little or no retirement savings outside of Social Security. Some recent proposals to cut Social Security would put the retirement security of workers in poorly compensated jobs at further risk. While it would be wise to shore up the long-term finances of Social Security, this can be done without cutting benefits for working and middle-class retirees. Finally, it is important to remember that Social Security by itself cannot be the sole vehicle for addressing an economy that is out of balance. We need to do much more improve job quality in the United States by ensuring that poorly compensated workers get a better deal.This report examines the essential role that Social Security plays in bolstering the retirement security of poorly compensated workers.

Talking About Poverty in a Jobs and Economy Framework

September 13, 2011

Reducing poverty substantially is not a small project. Unfortunately, only 1 percent of Americans point to "poverty" when asked about the most important problems facing the nation. This presents anti-poverty activists with a strategic problem: we need major policy reforms to substantially reduce poverty, but hardly any Americans -- including, it must be said, those officially categorized as poor -- view "poverty" as a major issue.The good news is that most Americans currently point to "jobs" or the "economy" when asked to identify the most important problem. The poverty rate is largely determined by job availability and job quality -- specifically unemployment, median earnings, and wage inequality, which explain most of the trend in poverty over the last several decades -- so poverty is actually best understood within a jobs and economy framework.This paper looks at two general recommendations for doing this.

Income, Inequality, and Food Prices: A Critique of Broda, Leibtag, and Weinstein's "The Role of Prices in Measuring the Poor's Living Standards"

December 23, 2010

In "The Role of Prices in Measuring the Poor's Living Standards," Christian Broda, Ephriam Leibtag, and David E. Weinstein (2009) use proprietary data -- the 2005 Nielsen Homescan dataset -- to analyze differences by income level in the prices paid for food. They find that Nielsen households with incomes above $60,000 pay somewhat more for the same food items than most households with lower incomes, with Nielsen households with incomes above $100,000 paying the most. Based on this finding and additional regression analyses, they conclude broadly that the "poor pay less -- not more -- for the goods they purchase" and that not accounting for this suggests that income inequality may be between 2.5 to 5 percent less than shown by national statistics.

A Modern Framework for Measuring Poverty and Basic Economic Security

April 27, 2010

This report details how the dominant framework for understanding and measuring poverty in the United States has become a conservative one. The current U.S. approach to measuring poverty views poverty only in terms of having an extremely low level of annual income, and utilizes poverty thresholds that are adjusted only for inflation rather than for changes in overall living standards. As a result, the official poverty measure has effectively defined deprivation down over the last four decades, moving it further and further away from mainstream living standards over time, as well as from majority public opinion of the minimum amount needed to "get along" at a basic level. A new Supplemental Income Poverty Measure (SIPM) proposed by the Obama administration makes some important improvements to the current poverty measure. However, the SIPM remains a conservative approach that appears likely to lock in the poverty line at an extremely low level. This report proposes a new framework for measuring poverty and basic economic security in the United States. Instead of being limited to the "extremely-low-income-only" approach the current poverty line and administration's proposed Supplemental Income Poverty Measure (SIPM) represent, this framework should utilize measures of low income and other forms of economic hardship related to low income.

Free Ride: The Senate Health Bill's Approach to "Employer Responsibility" Means Some Large Employers Get to Take It Easy

December 15, 2009

Leaders in both the House and the Senate have committed to "shared responsibility" as a basic principle of health care reform, meaning that the costs of health care coverage are shared by individuals, businesses, and the public sector. However, as this issue brief documents, the Senate version of the bill creates a free rider problem that would make it easy for many large and profitable employers, particularly the ones paying poor wages, to shirk their responsibilities.

Reimbursement Roulette: The Baucus Bill's Too Playful Approach to "Play-or-Pay" in Health Care Reform

September 29, 2009

Two of the three leading health care reform proposals being considered by Congress -- the House "Tri-Committee" health care reform legislation and the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee's reform legislation -- include sensibly designed "play-or-pay" provisions that require employers to pay an assessment if they do not offer insurance to some or all of their employees. The third leading health care reform proposal -- the bill proposed by Sen. Max Baucus and currently under consideration by the Senate Finance Committee -- also includes a play-or-pay requirement, but it is poorly designed and would be unfair to employers, harmful to employees, and impose wasteful expenses on taxpayers.

Employer Responsibility in Health Care Reform: Potential Effects on Low- and Moderate-Income Workers

September 15, 2009

Leading health care reform proposals all require individuals to obtain health care coverage, but differ in how they would require employers to share in the costs of coverage for their employees. This report reviews the employer responsibility requirements in the leading proposals -- often referred to as "play-or-pay" provisions -- and makes recommendations on how to best structure such a requirement to ensure that relatively low paid workers are not negatively impacted by them.

Half in Ten: Why Taking Disability into Account is Essential to Reducing Income Poverty and Expanding Economic Inclusion

September 9, 2009

Disability is both a fundamental cause and consequence of income poverty. The income-poverty rate for persons with disabilities is between two to three times the rate for persons without disabilities. Yet, contemporary policy debate and research about income poverty in the United States is largely silent about disability. This paper argues that we need to have a broader view of what poverty is and also that disability must be taken into account in anti-poverty policy.

U.S. Unemployment Now As High as Europe

May 15, 2009

From the early 1990s through the peak of the last business cycle, relatively low U.S. unemployment rates seemed to make the United States a model for the rest of the world's economies. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and other international organizations all praised the U.S. unemployment performance and urged the rest of the world's rich countries to emulate the "flexibility" of the U.S. model. However, this report shows that in the current economic crisis, the U.S. unemployment rate ranks 4th to last among the major OECD countries.

Using Recovery Act Funds to Improve Direct Care Jobs and the Quality of Direct Care Services

March 29, 2009

Direct care workers, including nursing assistants, home health aides, and personal and home care aides, constitute one of the largest and fastest growing sectors of the low-wage workforce. Strategies to improve the quality of these jobs can help promote economic recovery and expand the middle class. This policy brief provides an overview of direct care work and discusses how Recovery Act funds can be used to address some of the challenges faced by direct care workers. The charts at the end provide detail on the programs discussed.