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Retirement Planning > Saving for Retirement

Will Some Boomers Have To Work Forever?

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The vast majority of Americans, including boomers, have not done what’s necessary to retire comfortably, finds a recent survey by the Employee Benefit Research Institute, Washington.

EBRI’s 16th annual Retirement Confidence Survey shows many Americans have amassed relatively little in retirement savings. As might be expected, boomers have saved the most, but for many, it seems scarcely enough.

The survey finds 31% of those aged 45 to 54 had accumulated less than $10,000 for their retirement, while among those aged 55-plus, 36% reported having set aside less than $10,000.

Among all workers, 39% reported having accumulated less than that, although many have considerably more nest egg building years left than the average boomer.

Only 23% of those aged 45 to 54 had set aside at least $100,000, and among those aged 55-plus, 38% had done so.

The general drift of the study, regardless of age group, is that few have saved adequately for retirement. In fact, many have never actually tried to figure out how much they’d need once they retire, according to EBRI. It reports that only 42% of active workers have ever tried to calculate how much they needed to save for a comfortable retirement. That number has declined from 53% in 2000, despite the fact that for a large cohort of boomers in the work force, retirement age is looming.

Another reason for the low savings rate appears to be that where workers have taken a stab at how much they need to save, their estimates were generally unrealistically low.

EBRI estimates workers planning their retirement should plan for a retirement income-replacement ratio of at least 70% of pre-retirement income. And the number expressing confidence in their retirement outlook were flying in the face of recent widely publicized pension plan terminations or limits, EBRI notes.

Among surveyed workers, 30% thought they could get by with less than $250,000, while 19% estimated between $250,000 and $499,999, and 21% estimated $500,000 to $999,000. Another 18% thought they’d need over $1 million. The remainder said they did not know how much they’d need.

Of those who did say they have done a retirement savings calculation, 8% admitted they arrived at their answer by guessing.

It may be a classic example of people in mass denial, but 24% of all those surveyed were very confident they would have enough money to live comfortably in retirement, a number essentially unchanged from a year ago. Another 44% were somewhat confident, up from 40% in 2005.

Another indication that workers need a reality check on retirement: Only 40% said they or their spouse currently has a defined benefit plan, yet 61% expect to receive income from such a plan in retirement.

It’s clear people need to factor into their retirement planning the long-term trend away from traditional defined benefit pensions and toward 401(k)-type plans, observes Jack VanDerhei, a Temple University professor, EBRI fellow and co-author of the Retirement Confidence Survey.

“There are a lot of people who need to be saving more than they are, if they hope to be able to afford a comfortable retirement,” he says.

Some other findings of the survey:

o Boomers are more likely than younger workers to think they need to accumulate less than $100,000 for retirement. Those under age 35 are more likely than older workers to think they will need $1 million or more.

o The age at which the average worker plans to retire has increased from age 62 in 1996 to 65 this year. Of current workers, 33% expect to retire before 65, 37% between 62 and 65, and 25% after 65.

o Looking at actual retirees, EBRI finds 40% had retired before age 62.

o Sixty-six percent of current workers think they have some chance that they will live until age 90–or spend 25 years in retirement, assuming they retire at age 65. And 41% think they have some chance of living until at least age 95. Yet 58% think they will have less than 25 years of retirement.

o Fifty-eight percent of current workers said they and their spouses do not expect to receive any health insurance from their employers when they retire. (Another recent EBRI study finds that individuals age 55 who live to age 90 would need to have accumulated $210,000 by age 65 to pay for insurance to supplement Medicare and out-of-pocket medical expenses in retirement.)

Workers’ confidence about the future value of Medicare benefits is highest among the boomer generation, according to EBRI. Retirees are more confident still, with 62% saying they were sure Medicare benefits would continue at today’s level, compared to 34% of active workers who thought so.


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