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No Social Security? U.S. retirement gap would increase to $7.9 trillion this year

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The nation’s retirement savings gap varies by gender, marital status and other factors, according to new search.

The Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) unveils this finding in a new report, “Retirement Savings Shortfalls: Evidence from EBRI’s Retirement Security Projection Model.” Published in the February “EBRI Issue Brief,” the report is based on results from its proprietary Retirement Savings Projection Model. The RSPM estimates the size of the deficits that households are simulated to generate in retirement, or retirement savings shortfalls (RSS).

The research pegs the aggregate national retirement savings deficit at $4.13 trillion for all U.S. households between age 25 and 64. The estimate is based on current Social Security benefits not being cut in the future.

With the program’s Old-Age, Survivors and Disability Insurance (OASDI) trust fund projected to be exhausted by 2033, EBRI estimates the retirement deficit will increase to $4.38 trillion at that time if no additional funding is provided and a pro rata reduction in Social Security benefits is allowed to take effect.

To illustrate how important Social Security to Americans’ ability to afford retirement, EBRI also estimates that if the program were to be eliminated this year, the aggregate national retirement deficit would increase by nearly 90 percent, to $7.87 trillion.

“The analysis demonstrates the extreme importance of longevity risk (the higher costs of living a long time) and nursing home and home health care costs in simulating retirement savings shortfalls,” says Jack VanDerhei, EBRI research director and author of the report, “Ignoring nursing home and home health care costs (or assuming another entity pays these costs) decreases the RSS by an average of 74 percent whereas the shortfalls for those in the latest relative longevity quartile average 14.8 times those in the earliest relative longevity quartile.”

Among the study’s other findings:

  • For those on the verge of retirement (early baby boomers), retirement savings deficits vary from $19,304 (per individual) for married households to $33,778 for single males and $62,734 for single females.

  • RSS values for early boomers vary from $71,299 (per individual) for married households, increasing to $93,576 for single males and $104,821 for single females.

  • RSS values for Gen Xers assumed to have no future years of defined contribution plan eligibility is $78,297 per individual. That shortfall decreases substantially (to $52,113) for those with one to nine years of future eligibility; and to $32,937 for those with 10–19 years of future eligibility. 

See the chart on the next page for a comparison of retirement savings shortfalls by age group and gender.