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Democrats and Republicans Alike Worry About Retirement Security

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The November elections shone a harsh light on political divisions in the U.S., but voters left and right were united in their anxiety about economic security in retirement and in their dissatisfaction with national policymakers’ inaction to address the nation’s retirement crisis, the National Institute on Retirement Security reported Tuesday.

“If we learned anything from the recent elections, it’s that Americans are beyond angry about their economic insecurity,” NIRS executive director Diane Oakley said in a statement. “So it shouldn’t be surprising that Americans — Democrats and Republicans alike — are highly anxious about economic security in retirement.”

Greenwald & Associates conducted the biennial survey as a nationwide telephone interview of 800 Americans age 25 or older in order to assess their sentiment regarding retirement and actions policymakers could take to strengthen it.

The results showed that 76% of respondents were concerned about economic conditions affecting their ability to achieve a secure retirement. For self-identified Democrats, the level of concern was at 78%, and for Republicans 76%.

These percentages compared with an overall level of 74% in the 2015 study.

Eight-eight percent of Americans interviewed agreed — and 55% strongly agreed — that the U.S. faces a retirement crisis. The findings showed that concern was high across gender, income, age and party affiliation.

To ensure a secure retirement, three-fourths of respondents said they planned to work longer and to spend less in retirement.

According to the study, a big majority of Americans view pensions favorably. Eighty-five percent of respondents said all workers should have access to a pension plan so they can be independent and self-reliant in retirement.

Nearly three-quarters said pensions did more to help workers achieve a secure retirement than 401(k) plans, and two-thirds said pensions were safer than 401(k) plans.

Eighty-seven percent of those interviewed said the average retiree does not know enough about managing investments to make retirement savings last — a key financial worry for 401(k) plan participants, NIRS said.

Calling Washington

Eighty-five percent of interviewees said Washington solons do not understand how hard it is to prepare for retirement, similar to the 87% who said this in 2015. Likewise, 86% said the country’s leaders needed to give a higher priority to ensuring that Americans have a secure retirement.

In the lead-up to the president’s budget proposal speech to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday evening, the White House said Trump was committed to protecting the economic security of retirees.

As to solutions, 82% of respondents said government should make it easier for employers to offer pensions. Seventy-five percent liked the idea of state-sponsored retirement savings programs for workers not covered by their employers’ plans, and 81% said they would consider participating in a state plan.

“If the new Congress and administration are serious about addressing Americans’ economic anxiety, a bold first step would be to make a long-term fix to private-sector pension funding rules and to strengthen Social Security,” Oakley said.

“Our poll finds that 77% of Americans say that the disappearance of pensions is killing the American dream, and they are strongly opposed to cutting Social Security for current and future retirees.”

Seventy-six percent of respondents said it would be a mistake to cut government spending to reduce Social Security benefits for current retirees, up from 73% in 2015.

When it comes to adjusting benefits for future generations, 73% opposed cutting government spending that reduces Social Security benefits.

The NIRS noted that although both Democrats and Republicans agreed that the U.S. faced a retirement crisis, they differed on Social Security. Twenty-nine percent of Republicans said the government should cut spending in all areas even if doing so means reducing Social Security benefits for current retirees, compared with 15% of Democrats.

Asked about reducing Social Security benefits for future retirees, 13% of Democrats and 36% of Republicans agreed.

Ninety percent of Americans interviewed for the study supported pensions for police officers and firefighters, as did 81% for teachers.

Eighty-one percent said these benefits were deserved because public employees help finance the cost from every paycheck, up from 77% in 2015.

— Check out 9 Retirement Moves Other Countries Get Right on ThinkAdvisor.