The Frightening Facts About America's Retirement Crisis

A recent survey from the Employee Benefit Research Institute shows that working folks are barely holding on

Mar 23, 2014 at 1:00PM

Source: Flickr / Images of Money.

It's been four years since the Great Recession ended, but working Americans still find it hard to make ends meet. While the national unemployment rate has dropped appreciably from its highs since the recession officially ended in mid-2009, the jobs picture is still weak. Wages have stagnated, the plight of the long-term unemployed is still bleak, and young workers aged 20 to 24 years still have an unemployment rate of nearly 12%.  

As if all that wasn't depressing enough, the 2014 Retirement Confidence Survey tells us that not only are more workers living from paycheck to paycheck, but that a great majority of persons are carrying too much debt – with many saying their debt levels have increased over the past five years.

Both present and future are still clouded
The Employee Benefit Research Institute, which administered the survey, notes that an astonishing 36% of workers reported having less than $1,000 in savings or investments, higher than the 28% making this admission last year. Not surprisingly, this paltry level of savings was reported by 68% workers who earn less than $35,000 annually.

Workers in higher income brackets exuded more confidence when it came to retirement, too, with those making $75,000 or more per year showing increased confidence that they will experience a comfortable retirement. Overall, though, this metric was low. The 18% of all workers relating this sunny attitude is an improvement over the measly 13% the EBRI had measured from the years 2009 to 2013, certainly, but a far cry from the 27% reported in 2007.

Why are workers so ill-prepared for the future?
The biggest reason for the huge gap in what people have saved for retirement and what they really need to be saving seems to be this: they simply can't afford to save. The fact that the lowest-paid workers make up the majority of those will empty savings accounts speaks volumes. Indeed, survey respondents saying that they are not very or not at all confident that they will be able to retire comfortably is a stunning 43%. 

Another issue is that of debt. With 58% of those polled noting that they are worried about their level of debt, it's a sure bet that saving for retirement – or any reason – isn't on their agenda. Worse still, 24% say that their debt level is higher now than it was in 2009.

What can be done?
An interesting point brought out by this report is that having some type of retirement plan in place seems to spur people to save, and engenders a more positive attitude about retirement.

The survey points out that workers with a retirement plan had a confidence level of 24%, compared to only 9% of those that had no such plan. Only 11% of persons with a plan said they were not at all confident about retirement, versus 46% of those who had no retirement plan.

President Obama's new "myRA" plan, which targets workers who don't have access to a workplace plan, is a good start, but it's obvious that employers can do more to help their workers plan for the future. With only half of working Americans able to sign up for retirement plans where they work, business has an excellent opportunity to step up and make an investment in their own employees – as well as the nation's future.

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