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Volume 12 Issue 2 - October 2011

Director's Corner -- John P. Laitner

The August Retirement Research Consortium conference at the National Press Club was stimulating and well-attended. The panel topics on disability insurance, health care costs, and consequences of the current recession were timely.

Two important goals of the RRC are to foster communication between research scholars and the policymaking community, and to attract new scholars to the study of the Social Security system and the well-being of retired citizens more generally. The conference illustrated RRC efforts in both dimensions: it enlisted the participation of distinguished practitioners as discussants, and the presenters discussed their findings and fielded questions from the audience. Also, the RRC invited junior researchers from the Sandell scholars program to present their work.

SSA Deputy Commissioner David Rust’s opening remarks emphasized the role of communication, as did Mark Iwry’s lunchtime address. Applications of behavioral economics have been an important RRC topic. The private pension system in the US has been changing from defined benefit to defined contribution plans. The latter can offer workers a larger menu of choices and provide greater portability; however, they also generally burden employees with more decision making. One class of findings from behavioral research emphasizes the importance of the way pension options are presented. Workers may interpret default options, for example, as recommendations. Mark Iwry discussed the practical importance of default options, and he noted the role that research has played in informing recent default designs.

In times of change, investments in research can yield especially valuable returns. I look forward to continued participation in the RRC in the coming year.