The Truth About Retirement in America

According to the Federal Reserve, 31% of American workers have no retirement savings accounts at all. Of those who do have retirement accounts, the median balance is $100,000—not enough for most people to maintain their standard of living over decades of retirement.

For people who are already retired, 20% of married retirees and half of single retirees rely on Social Security for the bulk of their income, according to the Social Security Administration. The average monthly income for a 62-year-old was $1,340 last year.

What happened to the comfortable American retirement? Why are things so different from a generation ago?

Say Goodbye to the Good Old Days

To find the answer, we must look back about 50 years to when our country began a quiet retirement transition. No one paid much attention since, at the time, most retirees left the workforce with pensions that were guaranteed for life. Those pensions, plus a boost from Social Security, meant yesterday’s retirees could enjoy a comfortable retirement even if they didn’t save much on their own.

Today, traditional pensions are almost unheard of. Employer retirement plans like 401(k)s have replaced them, putting much of the responsibility for building a retirement nest egg on workers themselves.

It’s becoming clear now that this transition will not be smooth. The numbers show that it will actually be painful for many workers nearing retirement who are not financially prepared to support themselves.

Debt Sticking Around Longer

Another hurdle today’s retirees must overcome is their own debt load. Studies show that workers age 55–64 are spending 22% of their earnings on debt payments. That’s a 69% increase in less than 20 years.

These debt obligations keep workers in this age group from saving as much as they can for retirement. With their incomes going to cover their bills, few are able to take advantage of “catch-up” savings opportunities available to the 50-and-over crowd.

Health Care Takes a Big Bite

Medical expenses will also be a challenge for workers planning to retire in the next few years. A poll of people in this age group shows that they expect to need about $50,000 to cover health care costs in retirement.

The actual estimate for a 65-year-old couple retiring this year is $245,000. That figure does not include the costs for nursing home care that more than 70% of retirees will need sometime during their retirement.

Hope on the Horizon

We’ve painted a pretty bleak picture. But while there’s no doubt some retirees will face tough times, it’s not all gloom and doom. If you want your employees to get on track for retirement, you can lead them in the right direction.

It all starts when you help them lay a solid financial foundation. Consider a financial benefits program that begins with the basics of budgeting, saving and debt elimination.

When they’re no longer sending out so much of their pay to cover debt, your employees will discover that it’s easy to invest in a 401(k). As a natural result, you’ll see higher participation and contribution rates in your retirement plan. It’s a change that will help your workers prepare to retire on time and strengthen your whole company.

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