UW-Madison: Studies Child Tax Credit expansion, labor force reductions among new Social Security Administration-funded projects

MADISON – As the COVID-19 pandemic began and businesses initially closed to limit the spread of disease, many Americans found ways to continue working. But not all Americans. Recent data show that greater numbers of older adults left the labor force and experienced a decline in earned income.

With collaborators at the Ohio State University, J. Michael Collins — director of the University of Wisconsin–Madison Center for Financial Security— now has a new project to better understand the effect the pandemic has had on the economic security of older Americans. In particular, the study is interested in examining changes in consumer and mortgage debt.

“This research is critical for understanding how the economic security of older adults has been impacted by the pandemic and how public policy can address these financial vulnerabilities,” says Collins, who is also a professor of human ecology and public affairs at the UW–Madison.

It’s also one of 13 major research projects at the Center for Financial Security funded by the U.S. Social Security Administration. As part of the Retirement and Disability Research Consortium, the center has been awarded $2.2 million for fiscal year 2022. It represents the fourth year of funding as part of the consortium and the largest number of projects awarded in a single grant cycle.

As one of just four Retirement and Disability Research Centers in the country supported by the Social Security Administration, the UW–Madison center has a particular focus on the financial well-being of economically vulnerable families, older adults, children, people with disabilities, and low-wealth households.

For instance, in another project funded in fiscal year 2022, Consumer Science Professor Megan Doherty Bea is studying the relationships between retirement, the decisions older people make to relocate to live near or with family, and their economic well-being as they age.

And, with colleagues at Howard University and the University of Alabama, Timothy M. Smeeding, professor of public affairs and economics, is examining what effect expansion of the Child Tax Credit under the American Rescue Plan (and included in the Build Back Better plan) had on low-income and vulnerable families, including those with Social Security Disability Insurance and Old Age and Survivor Insurance.

“The pandemic has really highlighted how financially vulnerable families are, and how important safety net programs are to keep people financially stable,” Collins says.

The Social Security Administration funding also renews support for mentored fellowships and for the Junior Scholars in Training program, which trains and mentors early-career researchers and junior faculty in retirement and disability fields. This year also includes new support for the Social Insurance Undergraduate Research Fellowship, a training program to help develop undergraduate researchers.

To learn more about the Center for Financial Security and the projects funded in fiscal year 2022, as well as previous years of funding, visit https://cfsrdrc.wisc.edu/projects/2022.