March 12, 2013

Brighter Market Doesn’t Ease Retirement Worries: Survey

Government doesn’t understand struggle to save, retirement security institute finds

Americans are “highly anxious” about their retirement prospects, a report from the National Institute on Retirement Security found. Eighty-five percent of respondents said they were worried about their retirement in spite of a more stable market, declining unemployment and increased consumer confidence over all.

The report found almost the same percentage of respondents think the average worker can’t save enough on his or her own to guarantee a secure retirement. Three-quarters say the stock market makes it “impossible for the average American” to estimate how much they’ll be able to save for retirement.

Furthermore, 82% of respondents say all Americans should have access to a pension plan, not just state and local employees, up from 68% who agreed in 2011. The report found similar levels of support for universal access to pensions between private and public workers, at 81% and 88%, respectively.

Investors appear to be getting increasingly pessimistic, too. Overall, 82% of respondents said it was getting harder to prepare for retirement, and 60% said it was getting much harder. The biggest factor, though, is inflation cutting into middle-class salaries. Fewer pensions rated as the second biggest factor, followed by investors’ increased life expectancy.

NIRS noted that while a higher Social Security retirement age was rated a major factor in the increased difficulty of planning for retirement by just under half of respondents, it’s likely to be a bigger factor among smaller segments of the population like women, single people and those with lower incomes.

The report found both public and private sector employees look on pensions favorably, and nearly 60% of respondents who currently have a pension said it was a factor in their decision to work for their employer. When asked to choose between an employer that offered a pension and one that offered a 401(k), 45% said they were more likely to choose the employer that offered a pension, compared with 27% who would choose the 401(k).

The report found 87% of respondents don’t think political leaders appreciate how difficult it is to save for retirement, and 86% think they need to make retirement a higher priority. Those percentages are both up from 2011, when 79% of respondents told NIRS that politicians didn’t appreciate the difficulties of saving, and 81% said they needed to make retirement a priority.

Millennials, despite being farthest from retirement, are highly inclined to agree. The report found 94% think political leaders don’t understand the struggle to save and 90% think it should be made a higher priority. Regarding pensions in general, nearly 90% of millennials, few of whom are likely to have access to a pension, say they play a role in increasing retirement security.

Among the reforms supported by respondents to the NIRS survey is a scheme similar to the USA Retirement Funds proposed by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa. NIRS asked whether a privately run, portable pension plan available to all Americans was a good idea; 75% of respondents said yes and 81% said they would participate in such a plan.

While a majority of respondents agreed access to pensions should be expanded, most felt the average monthly benefit for public workers of about $2,150 was fair. Nearly a third, though, said it was too low.

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