Institute Talk: A Conversation About Retirement Insecurity with Katherine Newman

Katherine Newman, the interim chancellor of the University of Massachusetts Boston, has devoted much of her career to documenting conditions facing poor and working-class Americans. Her new book, Downhill From Here, Retirement Insecurity in the Age of Inequality, examines the perilous state of retirement in the United States. Gerontology Institute Director Len Fishman recently talked with Newman about the dangers facing the pension system, Social Security and other forms of economic support for Americans as they grow older. The following is an edited version of their conversation.

 Len Fishman: Your book reads in part like a post-mortem of the defined benefit pension system. Defined benefits provide a fixed pre-established benefit for employees at retirement, usually based on length of service and salary. They hit their high-water mark in 1980 and then plummeted. What happened?

Katherine Newman: Union density began to decline sharply at the same point. The defined benefit pension system is very much a creature of the collective bargaining power of unions. That’s why defined benefit systems tended to exist mainly where there were unionized workers. And as union density slipped — in part because of deregulation and industry competition – the strength behind the defined benefits began to shrink. Today, a very small minority of Americans have what we would call true pensions – 401(k) plans are definitely not pensions in terms of security and employer responsibility for investment. Continue reading

Gerontology PhD Student Shiva Prasad Studies How to Create Ideal LGBT Online Senior Center

By Caitlin Connelly

Imagine an online LGBT senior center. What would that look like and how would it serve visitors?

These are questions on Shiva Prasad’s mind. The third-year gerontology PhD student at UMass Boston recently presented preliminary research findings on the subject at the LGBT Elders in an Ever Changing World conference in Salem, Mass.

Nearly 200 people attended the one-day conference held to discuss the needs and desires of older adults and caregivers who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. Organizations helping put on the event included the LGBT Aging Project, North Shore Elder Services and the Over the Rainbow LGBT Coalition, Salem State University School of Social Work, Care Dimensions, and AARP Massachusetts. Continue reading

News Flash: UMass Boston Gerontology Makes Headlines in 2018

By Taryn Hojlo

UMass Boston’s gerontology faculty and students produced exciting new research findings and achieved remarkable public service achievements in 2018. The news media took notice.

Associate professor Beth Dugan and her Gerontology Institute colleagues published the 2018 edition of the Massachusetts Healthy Aging Data Report in December.The comprehensive report examined a vast array of health indicators on a community-by-community basis, creating an essential resource for policymakers and local leaders to better serve Massachusetts seniors. News coverage by WBUR in Boston looked at seven key takeaways from the report. The Boston Globe dove into the healthy aging data and produced a front-page story examining the impact of depression among elders. Dugan and her team ended the year at work on a similar report profiling the health status of seniors in New Hampshire. Continue reading

Special Journal Edition Examines Aging Policy and Politics in the Trump Era

Edward A. Miller

Editor-in-chief Edward A. Miller

It takes more than a few words to explain what the Trump administration means to older Americans.

In fact, the Journal of Aging & Social Policy has dedicated an entire edition to address the issue. Its recently published special edition, “Aging Policy and Politics in the Trump Era,” looks at the White House and Republicans controlling both houses of Congress from eleven different perspectives on senior issues.

“The role of older Americans has been critical in both shaping and reacting to this political moment,” JASP editor-in chief and UMass Boston professor Edward A. Miller, along with four co-authors, write in the edition’s lead article (free access).

“Their political orientations and behaviors have shaped it through their electoral support for Republican candidates, but they also stand as highly invested stakeholders in the policy decisions made by the very officials they elected and as beneficiaries of the programs that Republicans have targeted,” they wrote. Continue reading

Holes in the Safety Net: Social Security and the True Cost of Living for Seniors

Older Americans in every part of the country depend on Social Security benefits to help make ends meet. But just how far do those payments go toward covering the basic cost of living?

The answer varies a great deal on the personal circumstances of individuals. But it also depends significantly upon where seniors live, according to Jan Mutchler, a UMass Boston professor who leads the Gerontology Institute’s Center for Social & Demographic Research on Aging.

This is an important economic issue for seniors because Social Security provides such a large portion of total income for most beneficiaries. A third of those beneficiaries receive 90 percent of their income from Social Security. Three of every five depend on the benefit for at least half of their income.

Mutchler analyzed U.S. data on expenses and Social Security payments to determine the percentage of living costs covered by those benefits on a county by county basis. Along with co-authors Yang Li and Ping Xu, she recently published the findings in the Journal of Aging & Social Policy. Continue reading

UMass Gerontology Students Selected as Capstone Award Winners

By Taryn Hojlo

Two gerontology students researching a multi-generational approach to community senior centers and property tax relief programs for older homeowners have been selected for the 2018 Capstone awards.

Students Beth Duggan Rouleau and Norma Strack were selected by a committee from the Management of Aging Services Program at UMass Boston’s McCormack Graduate School. Each year, two Capstone papers are selected based on their demonstration of outstanding research in various topics concerning elder care, including policy development and program management. Continue reading

UMass Boston Gerontology Alums Present Plan to Improve Social Security Safety Net

By Meghan Hendricksen

Many older Americans, some of them disabled, badly need the support of a Social Security system they contributed to for most of their working lives. Often, that system does not provide nearly enough.

Kimberly Johnson

Kimberly Johnson

Elizabeth Johns

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two gerontology alumnae of the McCormack Graduate School have ideas about how to address that challenge. Kimberly Johnson and Elizabeth Johns, among the winners of an AARP competition seeking new ways to improve Social Security, presented their plan recently as the final spring semester guests of the UMass Boston gerontology speakers series. Continue reading

PAC Case Study: Tracking Down Pension Rights Awarded Long Ago in Divorce Settlement

The Gerontology Institute’s Pension Action Center is part of the McCormack Graduate School at UMass Boston. It provides free legal assistance to low- and moderate-income workers, retirees and their survivors in the six New England states and Illinois whose pension benefits have been wrongfully denied. This is one in an occasional series of posts about cases the center pursues on behalf of its clients.

Couples who go through a divorce need to sort out many financial issues. Settling rights to pension benefits can be an important part of the process.

But a divorce may take place many years or even decades before a pension begins to pay a benefit. Over that time, a lot can happen to separate former spouses from benefits they are legally entitled to collect. Continue reading

Insurance Association Award to Marc Cohen for Long-Term Care Finance Research

Marc Cohen, co-director of the LeadingAge LTSS Center @UMass Boston, is the first recipient of a Special Recognition Award from the Intercompany Long Term Care Insurance Conference Association honoring him for a career of contributions to the field of long-term care finance.

His nomination for the award cited work by Cohen and colleagues that “was responsible for bringing together key design parameters and gerontology knowledge that created the foundation for today’s long term care finance product.” Continue reading

A Big Year for UMass Boston Gerontology

It’s been a year for the record books.

The Gerontology Institute Blog covered every major department and institute event of 2017. But few of those posts could match the impact of coverage of students and their accomplishments filed during commencement season.

Start with those UMass Boston gerontology students who were awarded PhD degrees this year – as a group of eight, the largest in department history. One of the students, Mai See Yang, was selected as the speaker for the year’s graduate commencement ceremony. Read about her extraordinary story and then take a look at her commencement address. Continue reading