Is America “On the Beach” about its retirement funding crisis?

Is America simply waiting for the huge, coming crisis in retirement funding to overtake us? What happens then?

The situation reminds me of the 1959 movie, On the Beach, starring Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner. In the film, Australians are attempting to carry on with their everyday lives, while knowing that massive, deadly nuclear fallout, which already has wiped out most of the rest of humanity, is heading their way. When that occurs, they, too, will have no hope for survival.

For years I’ve been writing here about the emerging retirement funding crisis, and I’ve seen little evidence that things are getting any better. In fact, a major new research report by the non-profit, non-partisan National Institute for Retirement Security (NIRS) concludes “that the U.S. retirement savings crisis continues to worsen, and that the typical working household still has virtually no retirement savings.”

The new report, The Continuing Retirement Savings Crisis (authored by Dr. Nari Rhee and Ilana Bouvie) is a thorough update of a 2013 NIRS report, The Retirement Savings Crisis: Is It Worse Than We Think? NIRS concludes that the situation remains very dire. Here are some key points drawn from the 2015 report:

  • “When all households are included— not just households with retirement accounts—the median retirement account balance is $2,500. The median retirement account balance was $3,000 for all working-age households as reported in a previous 2013 report.”
  • “For near-retirement households, the new analysis finds that the median retirement account balance is $14,500.”
  • “(S)ome 62 percent of working households age 55-64 have retirement savings less than one times their annual income, which is far below what Americans need to be self-sufficient in retirement.”
  • “Even after counting households’ entire net worth—a generous measure of retirement savings—two thirds (66 percent) of working families fall short of conservative retirement savings targets for their age and income based on working until age 67.”

Personal and public policy responses

For those in a position to do so, this means paying close attention to retirement funding and engaging in steady, informed saving and investing. However, the realities behind the numbers are that many Americans will not be in a position to make up large shortfalls in expected retirement funding needs.

Clearly, we need to respond on a public scale simply to provide the means for a minimally secure, dignified retirement. The NIRS report agrees, observing that “(p)ublic policy can play a critical role in putting all Americans on a path toward a secure retirement by strengthening Social Security, expanding access to low cost, high quality retirement plans, and helping low income workers and families save.”

Now we get it, sort of

A recent NIRS public opinion survey “revealed that an overwhelming majority of Americans – 86 percent – believe that the nation faces a retirement crisis” and “that 75 percent of Americans are concerned about their ability to achieve a secure retirement.”  

In other words, America now understands that this is a crisis. 

It’s why I invoked On the Beach: We seem to know what’s coming, but we’re basically conducting business as usual. I guess it’s easier than imagining the specter of millions of people heading into their senior years with little or no retirement savings and a frayed safety net beneath them. Many around my age (50-somethings) are bravely saying, “I’ll just have to work forever,” but for a whole lot of reasons, that choice won’t be available to everyone.  

This is not a fun topic; it is a source of anxiety and stress for many, especially among my age cohort. However, unlike the Australian denizens in the movie, we are not necessarily doomed. We can undertake measures to soften this crisis — like shoring up the Social Security system, which is eminently do-able —  especially if we can summon more collective concern, caring, and kindness than what now dominates our political dialogue.

Instead of feeding on the usual nastiness that pervades typical cable news programs, let’s wrap our attention around these more significant concerns with some genuine heart quality and determination. The stakes are too high not to do so.


Related posts

Hard looks at joblessness, retirement funding, and Generation Jones (2014)

Suicide and the Great Recession: Will we heed the tragic warnings? (2013)

Retirement party (2013)

Retirement expert: “Most middle-class Americans will become poor or near-poor retirees” (2012)

The press discovers the coming Boomer retirement crisis (2011)

When Boomers retire (or try to): America’s coming train wreck (2010)

3 responses

  1. This is my take on retirement for most baby boomers. Like you wrote most boomers are not prepared for retirement and the government has done little to nothing to prepare for the influx of people who are going to need assistance. Our government has been too busy beating the drums of war to focus on social issues. We are not going to have enough housing or hospital beds for them as we are already short on medicare and medicaid beds. Many will find themselves homeless and dying an early death. I don’t see the x generation stepping up and caring for their parents. I see few in my own generation that have stepped up to care for their parents. It’s going to be a sad state of affairs for many baby boomers. I hope I am wrong but I don’t think I am.

  2. When my Mom passed away back in 2011 I found out she was living on less than $1,500 a month (she was taxed! Shameful) and she had a relatively new house and a savings account – this was amazing to me. She grew-up in a era in which making do with what you can afford and this is what we are going to have to do if we are going to live moderately comfortable. Certainly we will not be able to sustain our current lifestyles in this current economy. Still I am a fortunate one, I have paid into a retirement system with the Federal Government for over 37 years so I will have a sustainable income if I live similar to my mom. Daily I read federal news and fear that our legislature (Congress) continues to see this system as available to them to bail the government our, but I asked if they deplete our retirement funds then who will bail me out?

    When I was a youngster just hired in to the government I was not indoctrinated with any idea of what I needed to retire and what safety nets were available. When I was in school there was no course in finances, this is something that should have been mandatory and should still be a required program. Unfortuately a program such as this is still not being given in high school, so the emphasis on retirement in our education system is still non-existent. In this current environment retirement systems are tied to the stock market, but what did we learn about the stock market in high school? Nothing, at least not in the public school systems that I went and have been exposed to. So why the neglect in emphasizing the importance of finances? I just don’t get it, having a mandatory curriculum in high school is essential otherwise the outlook is dismal and disaster is inevitable. I wish it were a better outlook, but I know my kids haven’t properly prepared and my grandkids graduating from high school have no clue on what the future holds. We as a responsible society should be fighting harder to maintain Social Security and improving retirement programs, not tapping them for the hard earned resouces that will take care of our elderly; not put them in poverty.

  3. David, it’s just so inspiring for me that you raise all these topics that speak to the issues targets and victims of bullying/mobbing have to live with.

    I like to be open-minded and optimistic about progressive attitudes prevailing on most issues, including issues like social security. And, as you say, we are not doomed “if we can summon more collective concern, caring, and kindness than what now dominates.” And I have to say, that is a very big “if”.

    I’ve followed and promoted the Healthy Workplace Legislation cause for 12 years now, and I’ve actually needed it to be an implemented fact for 32 years. Summoning more “collective concern, caring, and kindness” with respect to workplace bullying and abusive behavior has always seemed to me to be a legal, civil, and human rights no-brainer. Yet, here we are. And here I am facing the very possibility of unsustainable poverty and homelessness because workplace bullying and mobbing destroyed my career and livelihood and the possibility of a livable pension. I wouldn’t be in this position if I had been able to address in a public, legal arena the need for some to take responsibility for their destructive, abusive behavior and obtain redress, restoration and restitution. There just has been no way to get the story and facts out for any kind of real fairness/justice examination. I’ve tried everything. The veracity of my situation has not been questioned by a Grand Jury grievance, and I hope the fact that California now has a law requiring supervisor trainings in workplace bullying and abusive behavior will emphasize to a Grand Jury and local attorneys the seriousness of these kinds of damaging behaviors.

    One could look at my situation and say that here was someone who wasn’t afraid to stand up for the dignity and respect that’s deserved in the workplace, someone who wanted transparency and open discussions about lies and bullying and abusive behavior in his workplace. For the life of me, the most puzzling thing in the world is why every attorney doesn’t stand up for those who are standing up for human and civil rights, and dignity and respect in the workplace.

    While we wait for an incrementalist approach to our workplace civil and human rights, some Black educators are writing essays like, “Laws Protect Certain Classes From Workplace Abuse: Why Not Everyone?”

    Please, workplace bullying researchers and leaders, create a foundation where targets and victims can send their whole stories and facts and documentation to be studied and dispersed and aired to the public through selected journalists and legal and psychological experts. Build a network of public support, including support from private benefactors, the 1%, and government agencies, to assist those whose lives are on the line and greatly need help.

    If no one else wants to take on this absolutely necessary and understandably complex project, provide some seed money and I will devote my life to building a foundation and network here in Sonoma County, California.

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