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Saving enough for retirement is a growing crisis

The bad news is that many seniors don’t have the retirement savings they thought they’d have. That’s especially the case for those who didn’t have coveted jobs with defined-benefit pensions or 401(k)-matching programs. In fact, only 35% of Americans between the ages of 55 and 64 — which is to say, those nearing traditional retirement age — have a pension or retirement savings held in a 401(k) or IRA, according to a report by the Joint Economic Committee in 2020.

To put it in perspective: the recommended savings for retirement is six times one’s current income at age 50, according to the report. Meanwhile, even among those Americans between 55 and 64 who do have retirement savings, the median account balance is just $88,000, the report says.

Another factor motivating seniors to delay retirement is that the longer they work, the more t they can collect when they start claiming Social Security.

“Every year you delay, that’s a raise you’re giving yourself forever,” Sanzenbacher said.

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The crisis isn’t felt equally

Working well past 65 isn’t an option that’s available to all seniors facing a retirement-savings shortfall, according to a November 2022 report from The New School’s Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis.

Those who work at delivery, construction, janitorial, caregiving, nursing and farming jobs, for example, are often not physically able to continue to work beyond traditional retirement age, the report says. Others might have to leave work to take on caregiving duties. Professionals with college degrees are better positioned to keep working.

“Though working longer may help mitigate today’s growing retirement insecurity, it is not a viable solution to the retirement crisis,” write the report’s authors. “Policymakers should support higher quality jobs for older workers while also ensuring that those who are no longer able to work can retire with financial security.”

People of color and women have a tougher time

Women and people of color are much more vulnerable to financial insecurity in retirement, according to the Joint Economic Committee. Its report shows that while white men had a median income of $65,000 in 2019 and white women earned $48,000, Black men earned $47,000 and Black women just $40,000. Hispanic men earned $40,000 and Hispanic women $33,000.

Additionally, more than 40% of older Black and Hispanic workers were performing physically demanding jobs in 2018, according to the Schwartz Center report. The proportion of older white workers in such jobs, meanwhile, was less than 30%.

One solution, proposed by Siavash Radpour, associate research director of the Retirement Equity Lab at the Schwartz Center, would be to open up opportunities for all older Americans to help them keep working.

“The solution is to invest more in technology to make workers more productive and reduce the physical demands of jobs,” he told AARP.


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About the Author

Kerry Gold

Kerry Gold

Freelance Contributor

Kerry Gold is a long-time journalist. Based in Vancouver, she's written a weekly real estate and urban issues column for the Globe and Mail for the past 15 years. She is the author and co-author of several books, and several investigative pieces for the Walrus and other publications. Prior to her freelance career, she was an entertainment reporter and music critic for the Vancouver Sun.

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