Why Retirement is Getting Tougher

Optimism about retirement prospects among all age groups has dropped sharply in the past year

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A perfect storm of financial forces have all conspired to make retirement especially rocky for the oldest baby boomers. Optimism about retirement prospects among all age groups has dropped sharply in the past year. Some 54 percent of Americans say they are less confident about having enough money for retirement than they were last year, according to an Employee Benefit Research Institute telephone survey of 1,257 Americans age 25 and older conducted in January 2009.

Much of this loss of confidence in the ability to retire comfortably can be attributed to recent economic uncertainty (92 percent) and inflation and the cost of living (88 percent). But Americans have also been impacted by specific and often traumatic financial events that make retirement even more difficult. Negative financial experiences that workers report having in the past year include:

  • Value of their retirement savings decreased (53 percent of those who had saved for retirement)
  • Everyday expenses increased (52 percent)
  • Amount paid for health care increased (46 percent)
  • Ability to save decreased (41 percent)
  • Value of nonretirement savings decreased (38 percent)
  • Value of home decreased (30 percent)
  • An increase in mortgage payments or rent (25 percent)
  • A major illness or medical event for self or an immediate family member (25 percent)
  • An increase in debt (24 percent)
  • A decrease in retirement plan benefits from an employer (24 percent of those employed)
  • Providing financial assistance to a family member or friend (23 percent)
  • Job loss or moving to a lower-paying job (21 percent)
  • Home foreclosure (1 percent)
  • Source: Employee Benefit Research Institute and Mathew Greenwald & Associates, Inc., 2009

    Uncertainty about the future of entitlement programs is also contributing to a decrease in optimism about retirement. A significant portion of Americans are not at all confident that Social Security (39 percent) and Medicare (26 percent) will continue to provide benefits that will match or exceed the value of the payouts enjoyed by current retirees. Confidence in both social programs is higher among Americans age 55 and older and current retirees than it is among younger workers.

    Tell us, what has impacted your retirement plans?