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Experts devise social security innovations to meet more Americans' needs

September 12, 2018

Social Security can be enhanced to provide Americans greater protections against financial risk, according to proposals found in a new supplemental issue of the journal Public Policy & Aging Report from The Gerontological Society of America. The innovations suggested would improve Social Security's adequacy in response to three important trends in the U.S.: increased longevity; more workers with low lifetime earnings; and the increased number of adults who spend working years providing unpaid family caregiving or pursuing educational enhancement.

Titled "Innovative Approaches to Improve Social Security Adequacy in the 21st Century," the issue is centered around seven winning submissions from AARP's 2016 Social Security Innovation Challenge.

"Transformative policy solutions take time to develop, refine, and implement, and this is especially true for Social Security, given its size and importance," wrote Debra Whitman, PhD, executive vice president and chief public policy officer at AARP. "I am confident that the innovations in this supplement offer an important new resource for people who are committed to finding new ways to strengthen Social Security's solvency and adequacy."

AARP received an overwhelming number of responses to the challenge from thought leaders across the country. The finalists were chosen by an expert panel, including the directors of the retirement research centers at the University of Michigan, Boston College, and the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Each winning innovation was assessed for its impact on both solvency and adequacy using the Urban Institute's Dynamic Simulation of Income Model (DYNASIM), which simulated policy changes on various demographic groups through 2065. This allowed the authors to realize the impact of their proposals on different generations and population subgroups. The analysis also showed interactions between program rules and policy parameters, and allowed the authors to revise or better target their proposals.

To address increased longevity among many Americans, one of the proposals recommended giving people with the retirement saving the option of "catch-up" contributions to Social Security starting in middle age; two others highlighted the potential of incentives for people to delay claiming benefits. For Americans with low lifetime earnings, two of the suggested innovations would see beneficiaries receive benefits that bring them up to or above the poverty line. And for those dealing with caregiving or education issues, one proposal would offer Social Security credits for time spent caregiving, receiving unemployment benefits, or participating in job training; another proposes income support from Social Security while an individual goes to school full time for job training or higher education.

Whitman said she hopes that the seven innovations serve as a catalyst for more ideas.

"We want innovative Social Security options to keep emerging, so that this great foundation of American retirement security keeps delivering on its social insurance mission for American workers and retirees, both today and for generations to come," she wrote.
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Public Policy & Aging Report is a publication of the National Academy on an Aging Society, the policy branch of The Gerontological Society of America (GSA). As the nation's oldest and largest interdisciplinary organization devoted to research, education, and practice in the field of aging, GSA's principal mission -- and that of its 5,500+ members -- is to advance the study of aging and disseminate information among scientists, decision makers, and the general public. GSA's structure also includes an educational branch, the Academy for Gerontology in Higher Education.

The Gerontological Society of America

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