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The Distributional Effects of an Investment-Based Social Security System

In: The Distributional Aspects of Social Security and Social Security Reform

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  • Martin S. Feldstein
  • Jeffrey B. Liebman

Abstract

In this paper we study the distributional impact of a change from the existing pay-as-you-go Social Security system to one that combines both pay-as-you-go and investment-based elements. Critics of investment-based plans have been concerned that such plans might reduce the retirement income of low-paid workers or of surviving spouses relative to what they would get from Social Security, and might therefore increase the extent of poverty among the aged. Our analysis in this paper shows that this is generally not the case, even in plans that make no special effort to maintain or increase redistribution. Our principal finding is that virtually all of the demographic groups that we examine would receive higher average benefits under a mixed system with an investment-based component than the benefits that they would receive under current Social Security rules. There would also be a smaller share of individuals with benefits below the poverty line even though the total cost of funding the mixed system -- a three percent saving contribution rather than a six percent rise in the tax rate -- is substantially lower than that of funding the pay-as-you-go system. Our individual-level data permit us to go beyond comparing group means to analyze the full distribution of the benefits that individuals would receive under the two different systems. These comparisons show that the overwhelming majority of individuals would have higher benefits with the investment-based system than with the pure pay-as-you-go system. The relatively small number of individuals who would receive less from the investment-based system is further reduced when the effects of the Supplementary Security Income program is taken into account. These basic conclusions remain true even if the future rate of return in the investment-based component of the mixed system is substantially less than past experience implies.

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This chapter was published in:

  • Martin Feldstein & Jeffrey B. Liebman, 2002. "The Distributional Aspects of Social Security and Social Security Reform," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number feld02-1, May.
    This item is provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Chapters with number 9753.

    Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberch:9753

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    1. Julia Lynn Coronado & Don Fullerton & Thomas Glass, 2000. "The Progressivity of Social Security," NBER Working Papers 7520, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Martin Feldstein & Elena Ranguelova, 1998. "Individual Risk and Intergenerational Risk Sharing in an Investment-Based Social Security Program," NBER Working Papers 6839, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Michael J. Boskin & Laurence J. Kotlikoff & Douglas J. Puffert & John B. Shoven, 1987. "Social Security: A Financial Appraisal Across and Within Generations," NBER Working Papers 1891, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. Lee, Ronald & Tuljapurkar, Shripad, 1998. "Uncertain Demographic Futures and Social Security Finances," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 88(2), pages 237-41, May.
    5. James M. Poterba, 1999. "The Rate of Return to Corporate Capital and Factor Shares: New EstimatesUsing Revised National Income Accounts and Capital Stock Data," NBER Working Papers 6263, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    6. Martin Feldstein & Andrew Samwick, 1997. "The Economics of Prefunding Social Security and Medicare Benefits," NBER Chapters, in: NBER Macroeconomics Annual 1997, Volume 12, pages 115-164 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    7. Judith Chevalier & Glenn Ellison, 1999. "Career Concerns Of Mutual Fund Managers," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 114(2), pages 389-432, May.
    8. Peter Diamond, 2004. "Social Security," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 94(1), pages 1-24, March.
    9. Douglas W. Elmendorf & Jeffrey B. Liebman, 2000. "Social Security Reform and National Saving in an Era of Budget Surpluses," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 31(2), pages 1-72.
    10. Michael D. Hurd & John B. Shoven, 1985. "The Distributional Impact of Social Security," NBER Chapters, in: Pensions, Labor, and Individual Choice, pages 193-222 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    11. Alan L. Gustman & Thomas L. Steinmeier, 2000. "Social Security Benefits of Immigrants and U.S. Born," NBER Chapters, in: Issues in the Economics of Immigration, pages 309-350 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    12. Fred T. Goldberg, Jr. & Michael J. Graetz, 1999. "Reforming Social Security: A Practical and Workable System of Personal Retirement Accounts," NBER Working Papers 6970, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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