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Volume 13 Issue 1 - October 2012

2012 RRC Conference: Current Perspectives on Retirement Policy

The 14th annual Retirement Research Consortium (RRC) conference, Current Perspectives on Retirement Policy, was held on August 2-3, 2012, at the National Press Club in Washington, DC. Researchers presented papers from projects funded by the Social Security Administration on the financial crisis; demographic shifts and retirement income; older workers; Social Security and redistribution; health costs; and the Disability Insurance program.
In his welcoming remarks, Deputy Commissioner of Social Security David Rust applauded the RRC’s contributions. "The RRC has generated numerous research findings that have influenced Social Security policy, and our understanding of how the Social Security programs affect the lives of retirees, workers, individuals with disabilities, and children." He noted that research has helped develop models that explain the impact of Social Security programs.

Commissioner Rust cited figures on the size and the costs of SSA disability insurance programs caseloads. "Social Security’s DI and SSI disability programs are large and complex. During FY 2011, we paid $128 billion in DI benefits and $52.4 billion in SSI benefits. Also in FY2011, we decided over 3,390,000 initial disability claims and completed over 795,000 hearing requests."

He announced the launch of a new Disability Research Consortium (DRC) on July 30, 2012, a few days prior. SSA awarded two 5-year cooperative agreements to establish Disability Research Centers at the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) and Mathematica Policy Research. The DRC’s mission is to provide policymakers with "evidence-based information to inform decisions on the disability programs. The DRC will be funded and managed by SSA following the RRC model and will be housed in the Office of Research, Evaluation, and Statistics, under the general direction of Manuel de la Puente and led by Sylvia Karman," said Rust.

He continued, "The DRC will have more of an inter-agency flavor, with SSA seeking direct input and involvement from other federal agencies that manage programs for individuals with disabilities. This perspective is needed, because the federal government provides a wide range of services and benefits to individuals with disabilities. This interagency focus will help us to better understand how federal disability programs overlap and interact, and help us improve the coordination of disability benefits and services across programs."

Thursday’s lunch speaker was Roger Merton, professor of finance of the MIT Sloan School of Management and the 1997 Nobel laureate in economics. He called for a "next generation" solution of retirement funding with low-cost investment strategies that make effective use of all dedicated retirement assets to maximize the chances of achieving retirement income goals. He discussed the shortcomings of some traditional tools for private retirement savings, and recommended a focus on providing sustainable retirement income.

Roger Ferguson, the president and CEO of TIAA-CREF spoke during Friday’s luncheon. He noted that TIAA-CREF currently has 3.7 million participants. Ferguson cited concern for adequate preparation for retirement with population aging due to increased life expectancy and declining birth rates. He recommended annuitization as a way to provide retirement income for life.