Americans in Grip of Deep Retirement Insecurity

A survey released Wednesday finds Americans with deep-seated fears about how the nation’s current economic turmoil will impact their retirement.

A news release from the National Institute on Retirement Security (NIRS), which commissioned the poll, said 83% of respondents were worried they would have to change their retirement plans in light of the slumping economy and investment markets.

Some 71% said retiring today is harder than it was for previous generations, and 51% asserted that the current retirement system is worse than it used to be since more people have to rely on defined contribution programs rather than defined benefit plans.

Asked to define a “secure retirement,” about half said it is having enough money to pay bills or meet basic needs.

“Even before the global financial crisis, the retirement outlook for America was grim,” said Beth Almeida, NIRS executive director, in the news release. “This month, millions of workers and retirees are opening their individual retirement account statements and likely feeling that their retirement aspirations are an unattainable fantasy.”

Other Findings

According to the survey of roughly 800 American workers:

  • 84% think government should make it easier for employers to offer pensions, while 79% think it is a good idea for government to sponsor pension plans that small employers or individuals can join.
  • 87% think it is a good idea to provide tax incentives or other steps to encourage small employers to band together to offer pensions.
  • 65% of workers with a pension are confident it will be there at retirement, while about half of those with 401(k)-type accounts believe they will have enough of a nest egg to stop working.
  • 55% of those without a pension say having a pension would ease their anxiety.
  • 87% believe all workers should have a pension so they can be self-reliant in retirement.
  • 85% agree retirement security is a shared responsibility between individuals, employers, and government.
Sharing Pension Responsibility

The survey’s authors also said that Americans want portability, followed by employer contributions, continuation of benefits for a spouse after death, and a regular check that cannot be outlived. They want to take individual responsibility/control over their retirement savings and trust themselves most, but they tend to be less interested in managing their investments and often say 401(k) savings are a “gamble.” According to a release on the findings, they are also divided as to whether retirement plans should allow loans against retirement savings.

Additionally, respondents said strengthening Social Security is the most important step the new Congress and Administration can take to improve retirement security. Americans also strongly favor tax incentives that would help individuals save for retirement or help employers offer retirement plans—and they are less interested in managing investments.

“Americans value the stability and security provided by a pension, and are experiencing the pitfalls of ‘on your own’ retirement,” Almeida said. “Absent a ‘Pension Renaissance,’ our retirement system will remain inefficient and insufficient—and Americans will continue to feel vulnerable.”

More information is available here.