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Is Uncle Sam Inducing the Elderly to Retire?

In: Tax Policy and the Economy, Volume 31

Listed author(s):
  • Alan J. Auerbach
  • Laurence J. Kotlikoff
  • Darryl Koehler
  • Manni Yu

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

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This chapter was published in:
  • Robert A. Moffitt, 2017. "Tax Policy and the Economy, Volume 31," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number moff-4, June.
  • This item is provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Chapters with number 13866.
    Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberch:13866
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    1. Poterba, James M, 1989. "Lifetime Incidence and the Distributional Burden of Excise Taxes," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 79(2), pages 325-330, May.
    2. Alicia H. Munnell & Steven A. Sass, 2008. "The Decline of Career Employment," Issues in Brief ib2008-8-14, Center for Retirement Research, revised Sep 2008.
    3. Leora Friedberg, 2000. "The Labor Supply Effects of the Social Security Earnings Test," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 82(1), pages 48-63, February.
    4. Congressional Budget Office, 2014. "The Distribution of Household Income and Federal Taxes, 2011," Reports 49440, Congressional Budget Office.
    5. Jagadeesh Gokhale & Laurence J. Kotlikoff & Alexi Sluchynsky, 2002. "Does it pay to work?," Working Paper 0206, Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland.
    6. Jonathan Gruber & David A. Wise, 1999. "Introduction to "Social Security and Retirement around the World"," NBER Chapters,in: Social Security and Retirement around the World, pages 1-35 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    7. Diamond, Peter A, 1998. "Optimal Income Taxation: An Example with a U-Shaped Pattern of Optimal Marginal Tax Rates," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 88(1), pages 83-95, March.
    8. Alan J. Auerbach & Laurence J. Kotlikoff & Darryl R. Koehler, 2016. "U.S. Inequality, Fiscal Progressivity, and Work Disincentives: An Intragenerational Accounting," NBER Working Papers 22032, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    9. repec:cbo:report:49440 is not listed on IDEAS
    10. Amy Finkelstein & Nathaniel Hendren & Erzo F.P. Luttmer, 2015. "The Value of Medicaid: Interpreting Results from the Oregon Health Insurance Experiment," NBER Working Papers 21308, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    11. Congressional Budget Office, 2014. "The Distribution of Household Income and Federal Taxes, 2011," Reports 49440, Congressional Budget Office.
    12. Congressional Budget Office, 2014. "The Distribution of Household Income and Federal Taxes, 2011," Reports 49440, Congressional Budget Office.
    13. Jonathan Gruber & David A. Wise, 1999. "Social Security and Retirement around the World," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number grub99-1, June.
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