Our Inadequate and Unbalanced Retirement SystemJames Cordelaine
If you said workers in our land of plenty haven’t saved enough for retirement, you’d be making a serious understatement. According to a recent report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), among families with members fifty-five and older, twenty-nine percent lack retirement savings or a traditional savings plan.
Among those who have managed to save, the median size of their nest egg amounts to $104,000 in households with members between 55-64, and $148,000 with members between 65-74.
According to the GAO, if invested in an inflation-protected annuity, those savings would generate a measly $310 and $649 per month respectively. Either of these numbers plus a Social Security check of any amount adds up to much less than a decent retirement income.
In a report just released by Pew Charitable Trusts, thirty million American workers fifty-five and older don’t have access to a retirement savings plan at work. But some states offer better odds than others. In fact, depending on which demographic you happen to fall into, you could be considerably better or worse off.
The percentage of workers eligible for a plan through work is twenty points higher in Wisconsin than it is in Florida, for example. But retirement plan eligibility and participation in this country also varies according to the industry in which a worker happens to be employed. 69% of workers in manufacturing and 68% in financial activities, for instance, have access to an employer-sponsored savings plan.
Now compare that number with 40% in the construction sector, and 34% in the leisure and hospitality sector. It should also come as no surprise that higher income workers have greater access to an employer-sponsored retirement plan than lower income workers. That disparity translates to three quarters of workers making over a hundred thousand a year who have access to an employer-sponsored retirement plan, as opposed to just thirty-two percent of workers making less than twenty-five thousand a year.
Similar disparities apply when it comes to level of education and race. So your chances of having access to a decent retirement plan are sharply higher if you’re a white person with a master’s degree making over a $100,000 a year working for a manufacturer than if you’re non-white, living in Texas, making under $30,000 a year and haven’t graduated high school. Clearly, the present employee-sponsored retirement system is unbalanced.
Still, a well-thought-out system can offer value. In its survey, Pew also explored the motives of small and medium-sized employers who offer retirement savings plans. They said such plans help to attract and retain good workers. Those who don’t offer them said they believed employees prefer higher salaries to such plans.
The unbalanced and underdeveloped aspect of employer-sponsored retirement plans in the U.S. underscores the need for each individual to develop his or her own retirement plan. Exclusive reliance on an outside source for income, whether state or federal government, or an employer, won’t get you very far.
Funding your own diversified portfolio with adequate protection through tangible assets like real estate and gold, though, is ultimately the way to go.