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Volume 15, Issue 3 - September 2015

Director's corner

Most of the discussants were Washington-based and could offer a policymaker’s perspective. There were two lunchtime speakers, Jason Furman, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, and Joseph F. Coughlin, director of the MIT AgeLab. The three RRC Research Centers – the Michigan Retirement Research Center, the Boston College Center, and the National Bureau of Economic Research Center – rotate in handling the organization of the meeting in cooperation with SSA; this year was the National Bureau’s turn.

Virginia P. Reno, Deputy Commissioner for Retirement and Disability Policy SSA, gave the introductory remarks. In addition to the three center directors, she introduced Ted Horan, the Deputy Associate Commissioner for Research, Evaluation, and Statistics, and Tom Hungerford, the Associate Commissioner for Retirement Policy. Virginia Reno’s comments addressed the overall role of Social Security, as well as its key attributes. She noted Social Security’s fiscal arrangements, including contrasts to “tax expenditures,” which help to motivate private retirement savings plans, as well as the Social Security program’s importance going forward.

Jason Furman’s talk, “Trends in Labor Force Participation,” summarized labor force changes since the recent recession. Although the unemployment rate has recovered, United States labor force participation as a fraction of the overall population remains lower than, say, in 2007. Some of the change is a normal consequence of an aging population, due to longer lives and lower birthrates. Other changes are more subtle.

Joseph Coughlin’s talk presented an overview of the future consequences of greater longevity (and lower birthrates). He noted healthcare needs, later retirement ages, and living arrangements with more single-person households. He also noted the need to “stay aggressive about your learning” in order not to fall behind.