Retirement Insecurity

Aug 14 2019

When President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act on August 14, 1935, one-quarter of the workforce was unemployed and half of all seniors lived in poverty. Since then, Social Security not only has prevented tens of millions of men and women from falling into poverty, it has become the bedrock of retirement security for all Americans.

However, for millions of Americans, the “three-legged stool” of retirement—Social Security, pensions and private savings—is coming apart. Since the late 1980s the percentage who receive traditional pensions has been cut almost in half. Furthermore, less than half of wage earners have defined contribution accounts like a 401(k) or IRA. One-third of near retirees—those ages 55-64—have neither a defined benefit pension nor a defined contribution plan.

As a result, half of American households are at risk of being unable to maintain their standard of living in retirement. Even those who take extraordinary steps—like working until 65 (five years past the current average retirement age), annuitizing all financial assets or reverse-mortgaging their homes—may not be able to maintain their living standards. Worse, forty percent of workers ages 50-60 who are not currently poor would be poor if were they retire at age 62. Women, Blacks and Hispanics are at substantially greater risk of being poor in retirement.