What can IRS data tell us about retirement incomes? The results from two new studies

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Event Summary

On Wednesday, AEI’s Andrew Biggs hosted a discussion on what IRS data can tell us about retirement incomes. He was joined by the authors of two new papers, Peter Brady of the Investment Company Institute and Joshua Mitchell of the Census Bureau. Kevin Moore of the Federal Reserve and Bruce Meyer of AEI and the University of Chicago joined as discussants.

Dr. Brady and Dr. Mitchell argued that improved IRS tax return data indicate that current retiree incomes are substantially higher than previously reported. Past survey data, such as the Current Population Survey, appear to miss substantial sources of retirement income. As a result, poverty rates among this population have been overstated in the past, and replacement rates have been understated.

Dr. Moore and Dr. Meyer agreed that the papers’ findings prove the need for better survey reporting. Dr. Meyer emphasized the importance of investigating not just postretirement income levels but also retirees’ abilities to maintain their standard of living via consumption. Citing differences in the ownership of durable goods such as houses and cars between retirees and nonretirees, Dr. Meyer mentioned that raw income levels might not be the only piece of the puzzle in studying retiree well-being.

— Derrick Choe

Event Description

Some survey data show that retirees receive only meager incomes from private retirement plans, leaving many seniors highly dependent on Social Security benefits. But better data tell a much more encouraging story.

Two recent research studies using IRS tax return data show that the number of seniors receiving private retirement plan benefits is rising and retirees’ incomes are substantially higher than previously believed. This new research will cause us to reassess how many retirees are living in poverty and how well-equipped retirees are to maintain their preretirement standard of living. Join AEI as Peter Brady presents his research, coauthored with Jessica Holland and Kevin Pierce, and Joshua Mitchell presents his research, coauthored with C. Adam Bee.

Join the conversation on social media with @AEI on Twitter and Facebook.

If you are unable to attend, we welcome you to watch the event live on this page. Full video will be posted within 24 hours.


9:45 AM

10:00 AM
Andrew G. Biggs, AEI

10:05 AM
Paper presentations

Peter Brady, Investment Company Institute
Joshua Mitchell, Census Bureau

10:45 AM

Bruce D. Meyer, AEI; University of Chicago
Kevin B. Moore, Federal Reserve Board

Andrew G. Biggs, AEI

11:45 AM

12:00 PM

Event Contact Information

For more information, please contact Isabelle Staff at [email protected], 202.862.5885.

Media Contact Information

For media inquiries or to register a camera crew, please contact [email protected], 202.862.5829

Speaker Biographies

Andrew G. Biggs is a resident scholar at AEI, where he studies Social Security reform, state and local government pensions, and public-sector pay and benefits. Before joining AEI, he was the principal deputy commissioner of the Social Security Administration (SSA), where he oversaw SSA’s policy research efforts. In 2005, as an associate director of the White House National Economic Council, he worked on Social Security reform. In 2001, he joined the staff of the President’s Commission to Strengthen Social Security. He has published widely in academic publications and newspapers such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post. He has also testified before Congress on numerous occasions. In 2013, the Society of Actuaries appointed Dr. Biggs co-vice chair of a blue-ribbon panel focused on underfunding of public-sector pension plans.

Peter Brady is a senior economist in the Retirement and Investor Research Division at the Investment Company Institute (ICI). At ICI, he focuses on pensions, retirement savings, and the taxation of capital income. His current research is focused on measuring changes in income in retirement and the tax treatment of retirement savings. His prior research includes work on retirement adequacy, replacement rates, pension coverage, and trends in pension income. Dr. Brady is president of the National Tax Association and a member of the Statistics of Income Consultants Panel for the IRS. Before joining ICI, he worked as a financial economist in the Office of Tax Analysis at the US Department of Treasury and, before that, as a staff economist in the research division at the Federal Reserve Board. He is a graduate of St. Lawrence University and holds a Ph.D. in economics from the University of Wisconsin.

Bruce D. Meyer is a visiting scholar at AEI, where he focuses on poverty, inequality, and social safety net programs. Concurrently, he is the McCormick Foundation Professor at the University of Chicago’s Harris School of Public Policy. He is also a research fellow at the National Bureau of Economic Research. His faculty appointments include being a tenured professor of economics at Northwestern University and a visiting professor of economics at Harvard University, Princeton University, and University College London. He has also advised the US Department of Labor and the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. The author of many book chapters, Dr. Meyer has been widely published in academic journals. He is also a former editor of the Journal of Labor Economics. Dr. Meyer has a Ph.D. in economics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and an M.A. and B.A., also in economics, from Northwestern University.

Joshua Mitchell is a senior economist at the US Census Bureau. His research topics include income inequality and unemployment in the United States, demographic trends in labor markets, and incomes for current retirees. Before joining the US Census Bureau in 2014, Dr. Mitchell served as a research associate at the Urban Institute and a summer associate at the Congressional Budget Office. Dr. Mitchell is a graduate of Stanford University and holds a Ph.D. in economics from Harvard University.

Kevin B. Moore is the chief of the microeconomic surveys section at the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve. His current research topics include household finance and labor supply and wealth. Before that, he acted as a senior economist, economist, and predoctoral fellow at the Federal Reserve Board. He has given numerous presentations for the National Tax Association and has acted as program chair of the business and economics section at the 2017 Joint Statistical Meetings. He is a referee for the National Tax Journal, American Economic Review, Southern Economic Journal, Fiscal Studies, and the Journal of Business Finance. He holds a Ph.D. and M.A. in economics from Johns Hopkins University and a B.S. in economics from Pennsylvania State University.

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