Outlook dims for older workers

During the first week of Wake Up, Washington! Month we highlighted the grim fact that half of all retirees age 65 and over have a yearly income of less than $15,635.  Half way through the Month, on the International Day of Older Persons, we noted that the U.S. has the fifth highest elderly poverty rate among 30 major industrialized countries.  During the final week of the Month we are featuring other facts about Older Americans 65 and older.  But what about workers nearing retirement?  How will they fare?

Even if they have saved throughout their work lives, many older workers are finding that they have not saved enough or that they have lost a substantial part of their savings in the recent stock market downturn.  In a recent survey by benefits consultant Towers Watson, 40 percent of respondents said that they plan to retire later than they had planned two years ago:

Older workers and those in poor health comprise the largest percentage of employees planning to delay retirement…Six in 10 older workers (61%) blamed the decline in the value of their 401(k) plan.

A survey of “pre-retirees” by the Hartford Financial Services Group offers a similarly pessimistic view:

With nearly nine in 10 people in their 60s expressing concerns about having enough money in retirement, more than half (55.4 percent) plan to work longer and put off retirement or work part time during retirement. Nearly half of those age 70 and older (44.4 percent) said the same. A significant percentage (17.4 percent for ages 60-69; 33.3 percent for age 70 and older) of survey respondents say they never plan to retire.

In 2007 – before the big drop in the stock market – half of all households aged 55 to 64 had less than $98,000 in a retirement savings account.  Savings at that level would purchase an annuity for the lives of a husband and wife worth about $5,400 a year.  This would replace just 10 percent of income for a typical household.  Many older working age people are also unemployed and no longer able to save for retirement in the current weak economy.

Given these facts, it is likely that Social Security will remain the backbone of retirement security for today’s older workers as it is for today’s retirees.  For all but the highest-income 20 percent of older Americans, Social Security is the largest single source of income, yet the average monthly retired worker benefit in August 2010 was $1,172 or roughly $14,000 annually.[1]  And the benefit is expected to fall, as the normal retirement age rises to age 67. Currently, the median replacement rate of income that Social Security provides is about 40 percent, but it will likely fall to 32 percent by the year 2030.[2]

What this means for older workers – and all Americans – is that there should be no cuts in Social Security.  At the same time every effort should be made to preserve, improve, and expand existing pension and retirement savings plans to supplement Social Security for those working today.  At the same time, it is critical that policymakers start the process of developing a new retirement system to supplement Social Security for future generations.

[1] Monthly Statistical Snapshot, August 2010, Social Security Administration, http://www.ssa.gov/policy/docs/quickfacts/stat_snapshot/index.html#table2..

[2] By Virginia P. Reno and Joni Lavery, Social Security and Retirement Income Adequacy, Social security Brief No. 25, July 2007, National Academy of Social Insurance.


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