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Do Workers with Low Lifetime Earnings Really Have Low Earnings Every Year?: Implications for Social Security Reform


  • Thomas L. Hungerford


When it comes to retirement income policy, there is a general perception that workers have full 40-year working careers before retiring. Further, it is generally assumed that workers with low lifetime earnings have low earnings in each year during a normal working career. The basic research question is why do some workers have low lifetime earnings? Is it due to low earnings in every year, or is it due to some years of no earnings combined with years of relatively modest earnings? The key findings from this paper are: (1) most individuals with minimum (and subminimum) wage lifetime average earnings are women, and (2) most of these women have low lifetime average earnings because of fewer years with earnings, rather than low earnings in each year of a 40-year working career.

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  • Thomas L. Hungerford, 2003. "Do Workers with Low Lifetime Earnings Really Have Low Earnings Every Year?: Implications for Social Security Reform," Economics Working Paper Archive wp_389, Levy Economics Institute.
  • Handle: RePEc:lev:wrkpap:wp_389

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Dimitri B. Papadimitriou & L. Randall Wray, "undated". "Does Social Security Need Saving? Providing for Retirees throughout the Twenty-first Century," Economics Public Policy Brief Archive ppb_55, Levy Economics Institute.
    2. Melissa Osborne & Herbert Gintis & Samuel Bowles, 2001. "The Determinants of Earnings: A Behavioral Approach," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 39(4), pages 1137-1176, December.
    3. Quinn, Joseph F, 1987. "The Economic Status of the Elderly: Beware of the Mean," Review of Income and Wealth, International Association for Research in Income and Wealth, vol. 33(1), pages 63-82, March.
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    Cited by:

    1. Wade D. Pfau, 2009. "How Representative are Representative Workers? An Assessment of the Hypothetical Workers Commonly Used in Social Security Studies," Journal of Income Distribution, Journal of Income Distribution, vol. 18(2), pages 92-117, June.

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