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New paper looks at how the Social Security trust fund would have been impacted had it invested in equities

In a new paper, Gary Burtless (along with four others) of the Brookings Institution looks at how investing in equities beginning with the Social Security reforms of 1983 would have impacted the trust fund. They write:

Our simulations suggest that equity investments would have been helpful historically and can be helpful prospectively.  Investing part of Social Security reserves in equities can reduce the need for future payroll tax hikes and benefit cuts. If equity investment had begun in 1984, for example, and if equity holdings had ramped up to 40 percent of the Trust Fund portfolio, reserves at the end of 2015 would have been $3.8 trillion compared with actual holdings of just $2.8 trillion.  A more helpful measure of the size of the reserve is the “Trust Fund ratio”—the amount of assets in the Trust Fund at the beginning of the year divided by expected Social Security payouts during the year. If equity investment had been phased in beginning in 1984, the Trust Fund ratio at year-end 2015 would have been 4.1 compared to the actual ratio of 3.1 (see Chart 1).  If equity investment had been phased in beginning in 1997, the ratio would have been 3.7.

Paper finds that labor force participation of older Americans increased after the Great Recession

Gary Burtless of the Brookings Institution has a new paper that looks at labor force dynamics and its implication for older workers. He finds:

Unlike prime-age Americans, who have experienced declines in employment and labor force participation since the onset of the Great Recession, Americans past 60 have seen their employment and labor force participation rates increase. Some of the shifts that account for the increase participation rate of older Americans:

  • Like workers in all age groups, workers in older groups saw a surge in monthly transitions from employment to unemployment in the Great Recession.
  • Unlike workers in prime-age and younger groups, however, older workers also saw a sizeable decline in exits to nonparticipation during and after the recession. While the surge in exits from employment to unemployment tended to reduce the employment rates of all age groups, the drop in employment exits to nonparticipation among the aged tended to hold up labor force participation rates and employment rates among the elderly compared with the nonelderly. Among the elderly, but not the nonelderly, the exit rate from employment into nonparticipation fell more than the exit rate from employment into unemployment increased.
  • The Great Recession and slow recovery from that recession made it harder for the unemployed to transition into employment. Exit rates from unemployment into employment fell sharply in all age groups, old and young.
  • In contrast to unemployed workers in younger age groups, the unemployed in the oldest age groups also saw a drop in their exits to nonparticipation. Compared with the nonaged, this tended to help maintain the labor force participation rates of the old.