Along with my co-authors at SCEPA's Retirement Equity Lab (ReLab), I released a report today that is the first to quantify the real effect of the retirement crisis - poverty. The report, "Are U.S. Workers Ready for Retirement?" identifies the share of people whose projected income in retirement will be below poverty across states. This message of downward mobility is important both to individuals whose retirement institutions are failing them and policy makers who will inherit the impact of increasing poverty on both social welfare and municipal budgets.

The report finds:

  • 33% of current workers aged 55 to 64 are likely to be poor or near-poor (less than 200% FPL) in retirement based on their current levels of retirement savings and total assets.
  • 55% of retirees will be forced to rely solely on their Social Security income.
  • Some states are worse off than others. 41% of near-retirement workers in Florida may experience poverty or near-poverty in retirement, followed by North Carolina and Texas.

Why?

  • Almost half of Americans who were working in 2011 were not offered a retirement account at work.
  • 68% of the U.S. working age population (25-64) did not participate in an employer-sponsored retirement plan because their employer did not offer one, they elected not to participate or were not working.
  • The amounts saved through employer-sponsored defined contribution (DC) retirement plans are only slightly better off than those without a retirement plan.

 

Downward Mobility is a Long-Term Trend Decreasing sponsorship of retirement plans has fallen nationally since 2000. Retirement plan participation rates follow the same pattern. This suggests that the declining sponsorship and participation rates identified in this report are not a temporary artifact of the 2008-2009 recession, but a product of persistent structural trends. If these trends continue, it is likely that retirement plan sponsorship and participation rates will continue to sink and the retirement readiness of U.S. workers is likely to get worse in the absence of efforts to improve the situation. Retirement Reform to Prevent Poverty & Systemic Failure In 2014, SCEPA found that declining bargaining power of workers, along with a decrease in firm size, were the largest predictors of the drop in sponsorship rates. Policies addressing diminished bargaining power and work to increase workers’ access to employment-based retirement savings vehicles are necessary to reverse the erosion of future retirement income. This includes creation of Guaranteed Retirement Accounts (GRAs), or personal retirement accounts funded by contributions from workers and employers and converted to annuities upon retirement.