Our friends at the Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently released some shocking news regarding today's teenagers. It seems that by the time they retire, more than a third of them -- some 37% -- will have empty 401(k) accounts. Yikes! For low-income workers, the number is an even more distressing 63%.

If you're thinking that's not a big deal, think again. That's a whole generation -- a lot of people. How will they live in retirement? On Social Security? That's far from something to count on, especially when you're some 50 years away from tapping it. On a pension? Most companies today no longer offer pensions, and by the time today's teens retire, pensions are likely to be rarer still.

The solution
Fortunately, there is a solution, and you and I can help deliver it. It's simply this: education. If young people learn about money and how to make the most of it while they're still young, their futures will be transformed. (Here's a study that offers evidence for the skeptical.)

Having more financially stable people in tomorrow's world is a good thing for all. Companies seem to know this, as many are supporting financial literacy projects around the nation:

  • Schwab (NASDAQ:SCHW) offers its "MoneyWise" and "Money Matters: Make it Count" programs for young people.
  • Wachovia (NYSE:WB) has partnered with the FDIC to offer a "Money Smart" curriculum for students. Other banks, such as HSBC (NYSE:HBC) and Bank of America (NYSE:BAC), also promote financial literacy through various programs.
  • FedEx (NYSE:FDX) has supported Junior Achievement programs in many countries.

Pitch in
What's being done, though, isn't enough. We all need to pitch in. We need to have discussions about money management with young people we care about. We need to support efforts at spreading financial literacy.

We at The Motley Fool have dedicated ourselves, this year and into the future, to fighting financial illiteracy through our annual charity drive, Foolanthropy. We researched gobs of worthy organizations and selected five to support. We'd love for you to at least click in and read about them, and then perhaps join with us in sending a few dollars their way.

We're at risk, too
Youngsters are not the only ones at risk here. Too many of us have underfunded 401(k) accounts or haven't been participating in employee-sponsored retirement plans. According to the GAO, "Only 36% of workers in 2004 participated in 401(k)s and similar accounts when offered ..." The causes are simple:

  • Procrastination and ignorance. Many people feel rather financially illiterate themselves, so they don't tackle their finances responsibly. The thought of picking investments for their 401(k) is daunting. Even among those who aren't too intimidated many simply put it off. Big mistake -- because a dollar invested today can do much more for you than a dollar invested five years from now. Time is a critical factor in investing.
  • Many people are changing jobs frequently these days, and each time they do so, they have to decide what to do with the money in their 401(k) (or equivalent) account. It can often be rolled over into an IRA, but instead, too many people are just cashing out the account. Big mistake, again. That money is there to provide for your future, to help you live comfortably in retirement. Don't blow it all on a speedboat or big-screen TV today.

Fortunately, there are solutions for these problems, too. Education is one -- I myself didn't know much about investing and saving for retirement until I attended a presentation offered by my employer years ago. Another solution is a sneakier one -- more and more companies these days are automatically signing up new employees for 401(k) plans without asking them about it. That is, they're enrolled by default. This has proven very effective.

Learn more
You can, and should, learn more about how to save and invest effectively for retirement. Let us help you with that. I encourage you to take advantage of a free 30-day trial of our Rule Your Retirement newsletter service. It distills what you really need to know into a manageable volume each month. A free trial will give you full access to all past issues, allowing you to gather valuable tips and even read how some folks have retired early and well. It regularly offers recommendations of promising stocks and mutual funds, too.

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Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian does not own shares of any companies mentioned in this article. Bank of America is a Motley Fool Income Investor recommendation. FedEx and Schwab are Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendations. Try any of our investing services free for 30 days. The Motley Fool is Fools writing for Fools.