SCEPA’s Retirement Equity Lab Announces a 10-Point Policy Agenda for the Biden Administration to Help Older Workers Recover from the Pandemic

Policies Result from Research Documenting Older Workers' Slower Recovery and Increasing Forced Retirement and Downward Mobility


New York, November 18, 2020 -- SCEPA's Retirement Equity Lab (ReLab) today released a 10-point policy agenda for the Biden administration to address older workers’ short-term needs in response to the pandemic and provide comprehensive reform to help prevent the retirement crisis. The current public health and economic crises leave older workers — especially older people of color and low-income seniors — more vulnerable in the labor market and more exposed to the systemic flaws in the retirement system. 

The report proposes policy reforms in 10 key areas:

  • Create a Federal Older Workers’ Bureau
    An Older Workers' Bureau (OWB) within the U.S. Department of Labor could support this full policy agenda. 
  • Lower the Medicare Eligibility Age to 50 and Make Medicare First-Payer
    Medicare should also be made first-payer, covering medical expenses before private insurance, to lower firms’ costs of providing older workers with health insurance. 
  • Extend and Increase Unemployment Benefits
    Increased unemployment benefits—even more than the $600 a week which expired July 31—can help older workers not drop out, preserve retirement assets, and put off claiming Social Security early, protecting their monthly benefits from the early retirement penalty.
  • Require Paid Sick Leave/Time Off for Older Workers
    The lack of paid sick leave for older workers on the front lines will hurt public health -- it is bad for the worker, who may try to work through an illness, and it is bad for other individuals who contract the illness because a sick person is showing up for work, further spreading disease. 
  • Discourage Early Withdrawls
    Congress should immediately reinstate the 10% penalty fee for early withdrawals from tax-advantaged retirement accounts, which was removed by the CARES Act in March and is scheduled to return in January. A May survey showed 3 in 10 workers withdrew savings from their retirement accounts to make ends meet during the pandemic, sacrificing future needs for short-term spending. 
  • Expand Social Security
    Increasing Social Security and instituting a minimum benefit will soften the blow for workers forced to retire before they are ready and will prevent many from falling into poverty.  
  • Create Guaranteed Retirement Accounts
    Congress should ensure all workers have retirement plans that are protected against recessions through the creation of a public option retirement plan known as Guaranteed Retirement Accounts (GRAs). 
  • Eliminate Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) Eligibility Age
    Childless workers above 65 years old are ineligible for the EITC while working side-by-side with EITC recipients in low-wage jobs, dampening wage growth for these ineligible older workers while the employer enjoys much of the EITC subsidies indirectly.
  • Enforce Age Discrimination Laws
    Stricter anti-discrimination laws are necessary to help older workers find employment during and after the pandemic.
  • Advance Workers’ Bargaining Power
    Federal efforts to protect institutions and policies that support workers’ rights to ensure living wages for older workers who are highly represented in low-paying jobs such as food service, retail, and care work.

"COVID-19 and the recession make clear that older workers face unique vulnerabilities in the labor market," said Teresa Ghilarducci, director of the Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis. "As the fastest growing share of the labor market, our economy needs older workers. And as near-retirees, older workers need quality jobs that allow them to save for retirement. By enacting ReLab's 10-point policy agenda, the new Congress and the Biden Administration can ensure older workers' access to jobs and retirement while protecting our economy as a whole."

Full report: A Policy Agenda for the Biden Administration – Protecting Older Workers and Strengthening Retirement Security

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