A scary new study by the Employee Benefit Research Institute reveals that more than one third of American workers have $1,000 or less saved for retirement, 1200 WOAI news reports.
The study looked only at people who are currently working, which means with high levels of chronic unemployment still plaguing the country, those total numbers are even larger when all adults are taken into consideration.
This is up from 28% who said they had $1,000 or less saved for retirement in a survey taken before the Great Recession.
Wendy Kowalik, President of the local financial planning firm Predico Partners, says this is bad news not only for the individuals who are not planning for retirement, but for all Americans.
"Our government and our programs that we have in place right now can't afford to take on the level of people who are going to be in need of retirement help," she said.
That could mean higher taxes for all Americans to bail out Social Security and Medicare, as well as to boost food stamp and other benefits which will be needed by individuals who have failed to plan for retirement.
There are several reasons we have gotten to this point, Kowalik said. One is the decline of the defined benefit pension, which has essentially vanished among non union private sector workers, and is in the process of being reduced even for the most well entrenched public sector employees. In the 1950s, as many as 75% of workers had defined benefit pensions, now that number is down below 20%. The private sector has moved toward 'defined contribution plans,' mainly 401k plans, which Kowalik says require that the employee enroll and participate.
She says with the low interest rate environment we have seen since the start of the Recession, there are no incentives for saving.
"They don't have a money market that is paying them any money, they can't go get a CD which is paying them any money, and that means they have to turn to the stock market, and many are risk averse."
Kowalik says there is a reason for that risk aversion, and their names are Bernie Madoff, Allen Stanford, and any number of crooked fund managers who have made putting your money in your mattress a lot more attractive.
"Every time they turn around there is another scandal hitting the newspaper," she said. "That makes people more fearful of who they can trust, where they can go, and how they can make sure their money will be there when they need it in the future."
Another problem is government policy. She says there are essentially no tax advantages for savings, and the Obama Administration actually is proposing cutting back on savings incentives for wealthier individuals. She says she can't see how making it harder for anybody to save for retirement is a good idea.
But generally, we have demographic problems. At a time when Americans and living longer and longer, that means they have to not only save more money, but workers in their forties and fifties get a false idea of how long they are going to be able to work. That also leads people to save less for retirement.