Quality of Life Amenities Make Providence a Great Retirement Mecca

Published in Woonsocket Call on August 30, 2015

Today’s retirement age is not set in stone at 65 years old for aging baby boomers, the milestone age where their parents and grandparents retired from the workforce.  Retirement Confidence Studies are finding that retiring in your mid-sixties is not a sure bet for many. According to WalletHub, a leading personal finance website, one such study, the Employee Benefit Research Institute’s 2014 Retirement Confidence Survey, found that  23 percent of workers expected to retire at age 65, but only 11 percent actually were able to.

The latest EBRI survey, released last April, said that many respondents blamed the nation’s poor economy for the continuing need to work in their later years. Others pointed to “inadequate finances” as another key reason for not retiring.  For 51 percent of workers and 31 percent of retirees, their accumulated debt kept them at their jobs.

WalletHub adds, the Report on the Economic Well-being of US Households in 2014 prepared by the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, says that 24 percent of the survey respondents are not at all confident at having enough money to finance a comfortable retirement.  The government report also noted that 50 percent cited cost of living and daily expenses as obstacles for putting money into their retirement egg nest.

WalletHub calls for a strategy to slide into a more comfortable retirement for those whose nest egg is small, just relocate to a City to “stretch your dollar without sacrificing your lifestyle.”Sars by Relocation

WalletHub decided to pinpoint the most cost efficient and retirement-friendly places in the country because of the research studies indicating that feelings of financial insecurity have an impact on how retirees make decisions to save for retirement, says WalletHub Spokesperson, Jill Gonzalez.

For the second year in a row, WalletHub, conducted an in-depth analysis of the Best and Worst Cities to Retire.  Like last year, the financial website compared the affordability, quality of life, health care and availability of recreational activities in the 150 largest U.S. cities.  The compiled data included 24 metrics, ranging from the cost of living to public hospital rankings to the percentage of the population aged 65 and older.

“Our methodology makes the difference. It’s extremely well-researched and the metrics are developed in conjunction with academic experts that span several fields,” says Gonzalez.res

WalletHub’s 2015 Best and Worst Cities to Retire ranks Rhode Island’s Capitol City almost dead last as the worst place to retire. But, the City of Providence did place better than two of his cities, Jersey City and New Jersey.  

Some of the metrics compiled from this survey include: Adjusted Cost of Living (122); Annual Cost of In-Home Services (140); Elderly Friendly Labor Market (80); Number of Adult Volunteer Activities per Capita (23); Percent of the Population Aged 65 and Older (132); Emotional health (144); Violent Crime Rate (78); and number of Home Care Facilities per capita (129).

Gonzalez noted that like 2014, in this years’ survey WalletHub compared the retirement-friendliness of the 150 most populated largest U.S. Cities (excluding the surrounding metro areas) across four key dimensions: Affordability; Activities; Quality of Life; and health Care.  Twenty four relevant metrics were complied, ranging from the cost of living to the percentage of the elderly population to the availability of recreational activities.

“Every year we strive to improve our methodology by taking into account consumer feedback and industry trends,” adds Gonzalez.

It’s no surprise that when a financial web site publishes rankings, older industrial cities in the Northeast are at a disadvantage,” said AARP Rhode Island State Director Kathleen Connell.

“Some of the indicators where Providence comes up short are discouraging. However, many of the city’s greatest attributes – its arts and culture environment, community esources associated with world-class institutes of higher learning, proximity to Narragansett Bay and convenient travel distances to Boston and New York are but a few of the reasons people stay after retirement.

“There should be no confusing Providence with the state as a whole as a retirement choice. Granted, Rhode Island is more expensive than the sunbelt and in states where the housing market collapse has resulted in more affordable housing alternatives. And energy costs will always be higher in our region. That said, many downsizing retirees who value quality of life find a way to make it work. Others can’t, and we need to find ways to make retiring here more affordable. Eliminating the state tax on Social Security benefits was a step in the right direction, albeit in real dollars not a game changer for many retirees with limited resources. Affordable senior housing is a big issue and one of those challenges that requires urgent attention,” Connell added.

“The WalletHub analysis is useful insofar as it raises awareness and compels people to think more about retirement – and that includes both retirees as well as policymakers.”

“Although the WalletHub’s study is well conducted and well-respected in the financial sector, you have to look deeper into each of the categories when it comes to Providence,” says Edward M. Mazze, Distinguished University Professor of Business Administration, at the University of Rhode Island.  “There are some unique factors that make Providence a better place to retire than one would guess from the survey,” he adds.

Mazze explains that economists who list, through national surveys, the best retirement places generally emphasize three criteria, specifically the cost of living, income, property and sales taxes and state/inheritance taxes. “When considering only these criteria, Providence and most cities will not rank high,” he says.

According to Rhode Island’s widely acclaimed economist, the state has made significant improvements in changing the income tax rates, raising the bottom on estate taxes and removing some social security benefits from state taxes which makes Providence a “great place to retire from a quality of life standpoint.”

For those retirees who want to live in a city that has four seasons, is strategically located near other major cities like Boston and New York, and want an active life-style, Providence meets the criteria,” he says.

Providence’s downtown area is also a site of parades, festivals and celebrations, says Mazze, adding that after enjoying these activities, retirees can dine at world-class restaurants.  You might also add to your list the close access to over 100 beaches and 400 miles of coastline, bike and nature trails and historic sites.

While WalletHub’s survey may not show Providence as a top place to retire, the quality of life factors would ratchet up Providence into a higher rating.

Is it Really a Happy Birthday for Social Security?

Published in Woonsocket Call on August 23, 2015

With the stroke of his pen, over 80 years ago, on August 14, 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act into law.  Over the last eight decades, this domestic program has become one of the most popular federal programs, paying $848 billion to 59 million beneficiaries at the end of calendar year 2014.  During that year, an estimated 166 million people had earnings covered by Social Security and paid taxes.

Celebrating the 80th birthday of Social Security over two weeks ago, AARP released the results of its anniversary survey.  The August 2015 survey followed earlier surveys conducted during previous milestone anniversaries in 1995 (60th), 2005 (70th) and 2010 (75th).  The latest 29 page report found that Americans of all ages continue to have strong feelings of support for Social Security, and this latest survey found several key themes.

According to the national survey of adults detailed in “Social Security 80th Anniversary Survey Report: Public Opinion Trends,” Social Security remains a core part of retirement security, it also remains popular across the generations and political ideologies.

“As we celebrate Social Security on its 80th anniversary, our survey found that it remains as important as ever to American families,” said AARP CEO Jo Ann Jenkins. “We also found that although most want to continue living independently as we age, obstacles to saving often continue to occur in our lives. However, Social Security continues to help generation after generation to diminish these obstacles.”

“When it comes to how important Social Security is to Rhode Islanders, the numbers speak for themselves,” said AARP Rhode Island State Director Kathleen Connell. “210,975 is the number of Social Security beneficiaries in the state; 23.7% say that Social Security provides 90% or more of their total income. And about half say that Social Security represents 50% or more of their income. Without Social Security, many retirees would be living below the poverty line.

“It is plain to see that protecting this key earned benefit is critical. A recent AARP survey found 68% of respondents express at least some concern that they won’t have enough savings to last their lifetime. Imagine if they are given reason to worry more about the viability of Social Security. People who are working toward retirement need to make themselves heard and – as we approach the 2016 elections – hold politicians to their promises to protect Social Security.”

Social Security Key to Surviving Old Age

            Older American’s look to rely on their Social Security checks to pay bills, say the researchers.  Four in five adults (80%) rely or plan to rely on Social Security benefits in a substantial way.  Survey respondents (33%) say that Social Security is the source of income that they rely on or plan to rely on most during their retirement years.

The study finding’s reveal that Social Security has broad support, even across political ideologies and America’s generations, too.  Sixty six percent believe that this domestic program is one of the most important government programs when compared to others. This view has remained consistent over time in similar AARP anniversary surveys taken in 1995, 2005, and 2010.  According to the study, the vast majority of Americans (82%) also believe it’s important to contribute to Social Security for the “common good.”

Like aging baby boomer and seniors, even younger Americans value this program. Specifically, nine in ten adults under 30 (90%) believe Social Security is an important government program, and nearly nine in ten (85%) want to know it will be there for them when they retire.

The survey respondents also want to live independently in their communities at home. The findings indicate that four out of five adults (83%) consider it extremely important to have the ability to stay at home as long as they want; although 64% believe they won’t be able to do so as they age and become frail. Additionally, while 68% feel it extremely important to have family around, 80% want to be able to financially take care of themselves so their children and other relatives won’t have to support them financially.

While recognizing the importance of financial planning, survey respondents say they face a multitude of challenges that keep them from effectively putting away money for their retirement.  Specifically, 69% note that they must focus their income on current financial needs, while 47% believe they do not have enough money left over to put into their retirement savings after paying their monthly bills.  Survey respondents (39%) says health issues and family problems keep them from saving for retirement.

SS Trustee Report Gives Nation a Warning

The six member Social Security Board of Trustees issued its 2015 report, on July 22, giving the nation a snapshot of the fiscal health of the nation’s retirement and disability program.

Within the 257 page report, the Trustees gave a dire warning to Congress.  “Taken in combination, Social Security’s retirement and disability programs have dedicated resources sufficient to cover benefits for nearly two decades, until 2034.  However, the projected depletion date for the separate Social Security’s Disability Insurance (DI) Trust Fund is only a little more than one year away, in late 2016,” says the widely anticipated federal report.  “After the DI trust fund exhaustion, annual revenues from the program’s dedicated payroll and taxation of Social Security benefits will be sufficient to fund about three-quarters of scheduled benefits through 2089.”

According to the Social Security Administration, there were about 10.4 million Americans who received benefits from the DI Trust Fund in 2014, including roughly 42,429 in the Ocean State.  In order to qualify, these beneficiaries are required to have worked in a job covered by Social Security, and must have been unable to work for a year or more due to a disability. If Congress fails to act to direct more funding into the DI trust fund, disabled workers throughout the nation and in Rhode Island will be hit hard financially right in their wallets.

AARP CEO Jo Ann Jenkins offered her observation about the released Social Security Trustees report. “While the Trustees once again report that the combined Old Age, Survivor and Disability Insurance Trust can pay full retirement, survivor and disability benefits for approximately two more decades, we know that if no action is taken, benefits will be cut by nearly 25% in 2034.  As the campaign season gets underway, we will be urging all Presidential candidates to share their plans for the long term solvency and adequacy of Social Security.”

Democrats are calling for an easy fix to shoring up the DI Trust Fund, specifically shifting a small percentage of the Social Security payroll tax from the retirement fund to the disability trust fund.  This has occurred 11 times in the past with bipartisan support.  But, with the 2016 presidential elections now catching the attention of politicos, GOP Senators have threatened to block any transfer of funds, charging that following this strategy is just a way to push the political “hot potato” issue down the road.  Political observers say that this year’s Republican opposition to quickly fixing the DI Trust Fund is a way to force Democrats to the negotiation table to get concessions on higher Social Security payroll taxes or to cut program benefits.

Now, it’s time for Congress to pull together to fix the ailing Social Security program to ensure its future solvency and to adequate fund the DI Trust Fund.  Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle must stop their political bickering and craft a compromise to keep Social Security’s retirement and disability trust funds well-funded and up and running for years to come.  For the sake of older Americans who now rely on their meager Social Security benefits to survive, our elected federal elected officials must begin to act like Statesmen not simple-minded politicians.  Hopefully, the voters will push for this change in thinking when they go into the polls in 2016.

 

 

Bush Flip Flops on Politically Charged Medicare Statement

Published in Woonsocket Call on August 16, 2015

On July 30, aging advocates celebrated the fiftieth birthday of Medicare, the nation’s second largest social insurance program in the United States. This program provides health care to more than 53.8 million beneficiaries, with total expenditures of $613 billion in 2014.  Three weeks earlier one GOP Presidential candidate was not calling for the celebration of this golden anniversary, but for the dismantling of it.

On Wednesday, July 22, at a New Hampshire town hall meeting, GOP Presidential candidate Jeb Bush suggested that its time to “phase out” Medicare.  This event was sponsored by Americans for prosperity, a conservative group financially backed by the extremely right-wing Koch Brothers, who oppose President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, the expansion of Medicare, minimum wage and anything else endorsed by Democrats and Progressives. . .

Bush Gets Cozy with Koch Brothers

At the town hall meeting, the former Florida Republican Governor called on the left to “join the conversation” of reforming Medicare.  “But they haven’t,” he charges.

GOP Presidential candidate Bush reminded the attending conservatives that over a year ago Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) offered his proposal in the 2015 Budget plan to replace the health program with vouchers and to increase the age eligibility from 65 to 67.  After this, television ads began to appear with a Ryan look-alike pushing a senior off a cliff in a wheelchair, he said, quipping “That’s their [liberals] response.”

Bush went on to say, “And I think we need to be vigilant about this and persuade people that our, when your volunteers go door to door, and they talk to people, people understand this. They know, and I think a lot of people recognize that we need to make sure we fulfill the commitment to people that have already received the benefits, that are receiving the benefits. But that we need to figure out a way to phase out this program for others and move to a new system that allows them to have something – because they’re not going to have anything.”

The Democratic National Committee (DNC) quickly seized Bush’s politically charged talking points, posting his comments at Americans for Prosperity event on YouTube.  The DNC jumped on the opportunity to send a message out to older Americans and liberal groups that the Florida Republican opposes a very popular domestic program.

One day later, on August 23, Bush worked hard to dodge intense political flack generated by his call for seriously “phasing out Medicare.” He explained that the Democrats and media took his previous comments out of context, he was only trying to reform Medicare to save it.

Medicare is an “actuarially unsound health system,” says Bush, who called for something to be done before skyrocketing costs burden future generations with $50 billion dollars of debt.

Keep the Status Quo

Bush’s campaigning in New Hampshire has revealed what many seasoned Republicans lawmakers know, there can be a swift political backlash to tinkering with the widely popular Medicare program.  A newly released national poll bluntly supports what AARP and other national aging advocacy groups and Democrats clearly know, the American public is quite happy with their Medicare program.

According to “Medicare and Medicaid at 50,” a new Kaiser Family Foundation poll released on last month, a majority of Americans and the vast majority of program beneficiaries view both Medicare positively.   Simply put, respondents had a strong preference for the status quo over major structural changes that would reshape how the programs serve beneficiaries, say researchers in their 27 page report.

The survey finds that a strong majority (70%) say that Medicare should continue to ensure all seniors get the same defined set of benefits. Far fewer (26%) say that the program should be changed to instead guarantee each senior a fixed contribution to the cost of their health insurance – a system known as premium support that has been proposed to address Medicare’s long-term financing challenges.

By a whopping two-to-one margin, majorities of Democrats, Republicans and independents favor keeping Medicare as is rather than changing to a premium support program. Adults under 65 years old are somewhat more likely than seniors to favor premium support (28% compared to 18%), though large majorities in all age groups prefer Medicare’s current structure.

But, despite the public’s lack of support for this change, the survey says that majority (54%) worry that Medicare will not be able to provide the same level of benefits to future enrollees, and two thirds (68%) say that changes are needed to keep Medicare sustainable for the future.

Improved Outlook for Medicare

While Bush, his fellow Republican Presidential Candidates and Republican Congressional Leadership say that Medicare costs are bankrupting the nation, a recently released Medicare Trustee’s 2015 Annual Report states the opposite.  This program will remain solvent until 2030, unchanged from last years analysis, but with an improved long-term outlook from the 2014 report, says the report released in July.   Under this year’s projection, the trust fund will remain solvent 13 years longer than the Trustees projections in 2009, before the passage of the Affordable Care Act.

“Growth in per-Medicare enrollee costs continues to be historically low even as the economy continues to rebound. While this is good news, we cannot be complacent as the number of Medicare beneficiaries continues to grow,” said Andy Slavitt, Acting Administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). “That’s why we must continue to transform our health care system into one that delivers better care and spends our dollars in a smarter way for beneficiaries so Medicare can continue to meet the needs of our beneficiaries for the next 50 years and beyond,” he adds.

The Medicare Trustee’s 2015 Annual Report also noted that per-enrollee Medicare spending growth has been low, averaging 1.3 percent over the last five years. In 2014, Medicare expenditures were slightly lower for Part A and Part D, and higher for Part B than previously estimated. Over the next decade, and partially due to the cost-containment provisions in the Affordable Care Act, per-enrollee Medicare spending growth (4.2 percent) is expected to continue to be lower than the overall growth in overall health expenditures (5.1 percent).

Over the years, Republican Congressional Lawmaker efforts have been largely unsuccessful in changing a very popular Medicare program.  As Bush found out during his politicking in the granite state, touching Medicare can have instant negative political consequences.

Once the GOP whittles down its 16 presidential candidates to a chosen standard-bearer to push its conservative agenda in the upcoming 2016 Presidential elections, the party must reexamine its position of scrapping the existing Medicare program.  Recognizing future challenges in the nation’s health care system, AARP throws commonsense ideas into the national debate as to what is the best way of strengthening Medicare.  The Washington, D.C. aging advocacy group calls for lowering prescription costs, improving health care coordination, and cracking down on over-testing, waste and fraud.

As AARP suggests, simple fixes can lower costs, but it also continues health coverage to the program’s current and future beneficiaries.  That’s the way to reform a widely popular domestic program.  By small incremental steps.