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Archive for November, 2020

20
Nov

The Jobs Recovery: More Work to Be Done

In April 2020, the U.S. economy lost an astonishing 20.8 million jobs, by far the largest loss recorded in a single month dating back to 1939. To put this in perspective, the second largest monthly job loss was about 2 million in September 1945, when defense industries reduced production at the end of World War II.1

The April unemployment rate spiked to 14.7%, the highest official rate on record (though unemployment has been estimated as high as 25% during the Great Depression). Just two months earlier, it was 3.5%, a 50-year low.2-3

As these numbers indicate, the impact of the COVID-19 recession on U.S. employment is unprecedented. As we approach the end of a very difficult year, this might be a good time to look at the state of the jobs recovery so far and consider its future prospects.

Measuring unemployment

The headline unemployment rate for October was 6.9%, a 1% improvement over September and less than half the rate in April. The rate is moving in the right direction but has a long way to go, and the headline rate — officially called U-3 — is not always the best indication of the state of employment. The U-3 rate only measures those who are unemployed and have actively looked for work during the previous four weeks.4

The broadest measure, U-6, includes discouraged and other “marginally attached” workers — those who are not currently looking for a job but are available to work and have looked in the last 12 months — and part-time workers who want and are available for full-time work. By this measure, the unemployment rate in October was 12.1%, suggesting that almost one out of eight Americans who want to work full-time cannot do so.5

Among the positive news in the October report was that almost 750,000 people age 20 and older — including 480,000 women — joined the labor force (meaning they are either employed or actively looking for work). This came after 1.1 million left in September — about 80% of them women — suggesting they may have dropped out to care for children attending school remotely or because they lacked child care. Women are also more likely to work in jobs that have been especially hard-hit by the pandemic. Since February, almost 2.2 million women have left the labor force compared with just 1.4 million men.6-7

Diminishing job gains

Prior to March 2020, the U.S. economy added jobs for 113 consecutive months dating back to October 2010. With the beginning of lockdowns in March, followed by the April collapse, more than 22 million jobs were lost over a two-month period.8

About 12 million jobs returned over the next six months, but that leaves the economy down 10 million jobs, and growth has slowed substantially since almost 5 million jobs were added in June during the first wave of reopenings. September and October saw gains of 672,000 and 638,000, respectively — great months during a healthy economy, but not nearly enough to catch up.9 If job creation continues at that pace, it would take about 15 months to get back to pre-pandemic levels, and that may be optimistic. In the October Economic Forecasting Survey of The Wall Street Journal, more than 40% of economists projected that payrolls would not return to pre-pandemic levels until 2023, and about 10% thought it would take even longer.10

An uneven recession

Different industries respond differently during any recession, but the pandemic has created big disparities that have led to large-scale layoffs. The leisure and hospitality industry has been hit the hardest, with total payrolls still down 20% from a year ago, despite more than 4.8 million employees returning to work over the last six months. By contrast, payrolls in the financial industry are down just 0.9%. Manufacturing is down 4.5%, and professional/business services is down 4.9%. Driven by demand for housing, the construction industry added 84,000 jobs in October and is down just 2.6% over October 2019.11

The retail industry added more than 100,000 jobs in October and is down only 3.0% from a year ago, aided by the strength of building supply stores, warehouse stores, and food and beverage stores, which have added almost 300,000 employees over the past year. Even with many locations reopening, employment in clothing stores is still down almost 25%, while sporting goods and hobby stores are down 16%. Online retailers, which have flourished during the pandemic, added 54,000 employees over the last six months, but payrolls are flat over a year ago.12 In 2019, retailers hired more than a half million temporary employees during the winter holiday season, but with so many brick-and-mortar stores struggling, the holidays may not provide as much of a boost this year.13

Imagining the future

In the near term, the employment picture will depend in large part on controlling the coronavirus. The spike in cases going into the winter cold and flu season suggests that the return-to-work process may slow down. Recent news regarding a vaccine is encouraging, and some high-risk groups might be inoculated by the end of the year. However, a vaccine may not be widely available until spring 2021.14

While an effective vaccine could be a game changer, it will not instantly open businesses or return all employees to the same jobs they had before the pandemic. For example, the shift to online retailing, which requires fewer employees, will likely continue. On the other hand, pent-up demand for travel and dining in restaurants could lead to a surge in hiring. A recent survey of frequent travelers found that 99% are eager to travel again, and 70% plan to take a vacation in 2021.15

In the best case, the pandemic might inspire changes that will strengthen the American workforce. In October, more than 21% of U.S. workers were still working remotely due to COVID-19, and many companies are making remote work a permanent option — a paradigm shift that may open new jobs for workers living outside of urban centers.16 The combination of remote work, remote learning, cheap technology, and low interest rates might offer opportunities to rethink broad business, employment, and education models. In the long term, the jobs recovery could depend on innovation as much as a vaccine.

1-2, 4-6, 8-9, 11-12, 16) U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2020

3) The Wall Street Journal, May 8, 2020

7) Associated Press, November 8, 2020

10) The Wall Street Journal Economic Forecasting Survey, October 2020

13) National Retail Federation, 2020

14) MarketWatch, November 13, 2020

15) Travel Leaders Group, October 16, 2020

11
Nov

New College Cost Data for 2020-2021 School Year

Every year, the College Board releases updated college cost data and trends in its annual report. Although costs can vary significantly depending on region of the country and college, the College Board publishes average cost figures, which are based on a survey of approximately 4,000 colleges across the country.

Following are cost highlights for the 2020-2021 academic year.(1) Because many residential colleges shifted to an online model this year, the College Board estimated 2020-2021 room and board figures to be the same as 2019-2020, adjusted for a 1% inflation rate.

Total cost of attendance” includes direct billed costs for tuition, fees, room, and board, plus a  sum for indirect costs that includes books, transportation, and personal expenses, which will vary by student.

Public college costs (in-state students)

  • Tuition and fees increased 1.1% to $10,560
  • Room and board increased 1% to $11,620
  • Total cost of attendance: $26,820

Public college costs (out-of-state students)

  • Tuition and fees increased 0.9% to $27,020
  • Room and board increased 1% to $11,620 (same as in-state)
  • Total cost of attendance: $43,280

Private college costs

  • Tuition and fees increased 2.1% to $37,650
  • Room and board increased 1% to $13,120
  • Total cost of attendance: $54,880

Over the past decade, the average published tuition, fees, room, and board at private 4-year colleges increased by 17% beyond increases in the Consumer Price Index, and at 4-year public colleges increased 15% beyond increases in the Consumer Price Index.(2)

FAFSA opened October 1st

The FAFSA for the next school year, 2021-2022, opened on October 1, 2020. The 2021-2022 FAFSA  relies on income information from your 2019 federal income tax return and current asset information. Your income is the biggest factor in determining financial aid eligibility.

A detailed analysis of the federal aid formula is beyond the scope of this article, but generally here’s how your expected family contribution (EFC) is calculated:(3)

  • Parent income is counted up to 47% (income equals adjusted gross income, plus untaxed income/benefits minus certain deductions)
  • Student income is counted at 50% over the student’s income protection allowance ($6,970 for the 2021-2022 year)
  • Parent assets over the asset protection allowance are counted at 5.64% (home equity, retirement accounts, cash value life insurance, and annuities are not counted at all)
  • Student assets are counted at 20%

Your EFC remains constant, no matter which college your child attends.   Your EFC is not the same as your child’s financial need. To calculate financial need, subtract your EFC from the cost of a specific college. Because costs vary at each college, your child’s financial need will vary by college.

Just because your child has financial need doesn’t automatically mean that colleges will meet 100% of that need. Colleges that do meet 100% of “demonstrated need” usually advertise this; not all colleges do. If a college doesn’t meet 100% of your child’s financial need, you’ll have to make up the gap, in addition to paying your EFC.

To get an estimate ahead of time what your out-of-pocket cost might be at a particular school, run a college’s net price calculator, which is available on every college website. You input income, asset, and general family information and the net price calculator provides an estimate of the grant aid your child might expect at that particular college. The cost of the college minus this grant aid equals your net price, hence the name “net price calculator.”

Reduced asset protection allowance

Over the past two decades, a stealth change in the FAFSA has been negatively impacting a family’s eligibility for financial aid. The asset protection allowance, which lets parents shield a certain amount of assets from consideration (in addition to the assets listed above that are already shielded), has been steadily declining for years, resulting in higher EFCs. Ten years ago, the asset protection allowance for a 48-year-old married parent with a child about to enter college was $46,200. For 2021-2022, that same allowance is $6,600, resulting in a $2,233 decrease in a student’s aid eligibility ($46,200 – $6,600 x 5.64%).(4)

Student loan debt

Student debt is the  second-highest consumer debt category after mortgage debt, ahead of both auto loans and credit card debt.(5) More than six in ten (62%) college seniors who graduated  in 2019 had student loan debt, owing an average of $28,950.(6) Paying careful attention to costs at college time might help you and/or your child avoid excessive student loan debt.

1-2) College Board, 2020

3-4) U.S. Department of Education,  The EFC Formula, 2021-2022, 2011-2012

5) Federal Reserve Bank of New York, Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit, August 2020

6) Institute for College Access & Success, Student Debt and the Class of 2019, October 2020

4
Nov

IRA and Retirement Plan Limits for 2021

Many IRA and retirement plan limits are indexed for inflation each year. While some of the limits remain unchanged for 2021, other key numbers have increased.

IRA contribution limits

The maximum amount you can contribute to a traditional IRA or a Roth IRA in 2021 is $6,000 (or 100% of your earned income, if less), unchanged from 2020. The maximum catch-up contribution for those age 50 or older remains $1,000. You can contribute to both a traditional IRA and a Roth IRA in 2021, but your total contributions cannot exceed these annual limits.

Income limits for deducting traditional IRA contributions

If you (or if you’re married, both you and your spouse) are not covered by an employer retirement plan, your contributions to a traditional IRA are generally fully tax deductible. If you’re married, filing jointly, and you’re not covered by an employer plan but your spouse is, your deduction is limited if your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) is between $198,000 and $208,000 (up from $196,000 and $206,000 in 2020), and eliminated if your MAGI is $208,000 or more (up from $206,000 in 2020).

For those who are covered by an employer plan, deductibility depends on your income and filing status.

If your 2021 federal income tax  filing status is:Your  IRA deduction is limited if your MAGI is      between:Your deduction is eliminated if your MAGI is:
Single or head of household$66,000 and $76,000$76,000 or more
Married filing jointly or qualifying      widow(er)$105,000 and $125,000 (combined)$125,000 or more      (combined)
Married filing separately$0      and $10,000$10,000 or more

If your filing status is single or head of household, you can fully deduct your IRA contribution up to $6,000 ($7,000 if you are age 50 or older) in 2021 if your MAGI is $66,000 or less (up from $65,000 in 2020). If you’re married and filing a joint return, you can fully deduct up to $6,000 ($7,000 if you are age 50 or older) if your MAGI is $105,000 or less (up from $104,000 in 2020).

Income limits for contributing to a Roth IRA

The income limits for determining how much you can contribute to a Roth IRA have also increased.

If your 2021 federal income tax filing status is:Your Roth IRA contribution is limited if your MAGI is:You cannot contribute to a Roth IRA if your MAGI is:
Single or head of householdMore than $125,000 but less than $140,000$140,000 or more
Married filing jointly or qualifying      widow(er)More than $198,000 but less than $208,000      (combined)$208,000 or more (combined)
Married filing separatelyMore than $0 but less than $10,000$10,000 or more

If your filing status is single or head of household, you can contribute the full $6,000  ($7,000 if you are age 50 or older) to a Roth IRA if your MAGI is $125,000 or less (up from $124,000 in 2020). And if you’re married and filing a joint return, you can make a full contribution if your MAGI is $198,000 or less (up from $196,000 in 2020). Again, contributions can’t exceed 100% of your earned income.

Employer retirement plan limits

Most of the significant employer retirement plan limits for 2021 remain unchanged from 2020. The maximum amount you can contribute (your “elective deferrals”) to a 401(k) plan remains  $19,500 in 2021. This limit also applies to 403(b) and 457(b) plans, as well as the Federal Thrift Plan. If you’re age 50 or older, you can also make catch-up contributions of up to $6,500 to these plans in 2021. [Special catch-up limits apply to certain participants in 403(b) and 457(b) plans.]

The amount you can contribute to a SIMPLE IRA or SIMPLE 401(k) remains $13,500 in 2021, and the catch-up limit for those age 50 or older remains $3,000.

Plan type:Annual dollar  limit:Catch-up limit:
401(k), 403(b), governmental 457(b),      Federal Thrift Plan$19,500$6,500
SIMPLE plans$13,500$3,000

Note: Contributions can’t exceed 100% of your income.

If you participate in more than one retirement plan, your total elective deferrals can’t exceed the annual limit ($19,500 in 2021 plus any applicable catch-up contributions). Deferrals to 401(k) plans, 403(b) plans, and SIMPLE plans are included in this aggregate limit, but deferrals to Section 457(b) plans are not. For example, if you participate in both a 403(b) plan and  a 457(b) plan, you can defer the full dollar limit to each plan — a total of     $39,000 in 2021 (plus any catch-up contributions).

The maximum amount that can be allocated to your account in a defined contribution plan [for example, a 401(k) plan or profit-sharing plan] in 2021 is $58,000 (up from $57,000 in 2020) plus age 50 or older catch-up     contributions. This includes both your contributions and your employer’s     contributions. Special rules apply if your employer sponsors more than one retirement plan.

Finally, the maximum amount of compensation that can be taken into account in determining benefits for most plans in 2021 is $290,000 (up from $285,000 in 2020), and the dollar threshold for determining highly compensated employees (when 2021 is the look-back year) remains      $130,000 (unchanged from 2020).