In this story:
- A new study looked at the attitudes people across the country have about retirement
- Americans are generally concerned about their ability to have a secure retirement
- Reasons for concern included rising costs, longer lifespans, and market volatility
Retirement studies often focus on statistics that capture trends about groups of people. “How much does the average retirement-age person have saved for retirement?” “What’s the average retirement age these days?” “What percentage of people are on track to retire by 65?”
Studies like these are helpful when trying to understand the various circumstances from which people approach retirement, but we don’t learn much about the people themselves.
A new study prepared by The National Institute on Retirement Security stands out because it does just that. People across the country shared their thoughts about retirement security. What do they worry about? How do they feel about the future? What do they trust?
Retirement Security Concerns
The responses highlighted a number of concerns Americans have about retirement security. Some of them include:
Many Americans feel retirement security is out of reach
- 67% of respondents said the U.S. faces a retirement crisis
- 56% are concerned they won’t become financially secure, and 58% said it’s getting harder as time goes on
- 68% said they aren’t able to save enough to guarantee a secure retirement
When asked to cite reasons for their concerns, respondents gave a mix of reasons. The cost of health care and long-term care topped the list. About half of the respondents cited longer lifespans, lack of access to a pension, stagnant salaries, debt, and the complexities of managing retirement savings themselves. One-third mentioned stock market volatility .
Yes, COVID-19 has had an impact.
- Half of respondents said the pandemic has increased their concerns about retirement security
- One-third of respondents said they are rethinking their retirement plan, and two out of three said they are pushing their planned retirement date farther into the future.
A variety of reasons stand behind the pandemic’s financial impact. About a quarter of respondents said they’ve needed to use emergency savings. One in four said their employer reduced contributions to their retirement plan.
The Critical Component: Retirement Security
Retirement planning contains few one-size-fits-all explanations. For instance, there’s not a set dollar amount everyone shoots for. People approach the many non-financial decisions related to retirement — about healthcare, housing, and lifestyle — on a case-by-case basis, too.
There’s also the fact that this was a broad study, not limited to those with a particular type of retirement plan or to a particular part of the country. Why does that matter? Not everyone has access to the same set of retirement tools. For example, PERA members have access to both a pension and self-directed savings through a 401(k). However, the majority of workers today don’t have access to a pension and about one in three don’t have access to any kind of retirement savings account through their job. The retirement tools that any one person does or does not have likely influences their views.
But after considering the responses people shared in the responses above, a definition of retirement security that does apply to most people begins to emerge: Retirement security is feeling confident about planning for the future despite life’s unavoidable uncertainties.
Even in their working years, people employ methods to gain security: purchasing insurance and building up an emergency fund are two examples. Of course, taking these measures does not mean that bad breaks will not occur. But they can make tough times more financially manageable if and when they do.
So what tools would make the prospect of retirement more secure? The next issue of PERA On The Issues will explore how respondents answered that question and what PERA members should know about their own retirement.