Where We Stand: America’s Retirement Readiness

What’s the state of America’s retirement readiness? Here’s a quick look at some worrisome statistics—as well as at some key notions that should concern both those saving for retirement and those who have already quit the workforce:

  • According to the Employee Benefit Research Institute’s 2017 Retirement Confidence Survey, 47% of workers reported having less than $25,000 in savings—and half this group had less than $1,000. This figure excludes the value of their home, Social Security and any defined benefit pension plan.
  • What if you include those items? For households approaching retirement age, the typical net worth is $598,700, calculates Boston College’s Center for Retirement Research. That sounds more impressive—but 50% of this figure is represented by the value assigned to Social Security benefits, and another 26% by traditional pension plans, which are fast disappearing.
  • You can get a glimpse of America’s retirement readiness from the Federal Reserve’s 2016 Survey of Consumer Finances. Among households headed by someone age 65 to 74, 79.1% owned their home, but that was down from 85.8% three years earlier. Moreover, 38.8% also had a mortgage, while 70.1% were carrying some form of debt. Meanwhile, just 49.8% of this group had an IRA or similar retirement account.
  • Among households headed by someone age 55 and older, 29% had neither savings in a retirement account, like an IRA or 401(k) plan, nor were they covered by a defined benefit pension plan, according to a 2015 General Accounting Office study.
  • The National Institute on Retirement Security found that a quarter of households headed by someone age 55 to 64 had a net worth—the value of all assets, including their home, minus all debts—that was less than their annual income. By contrast, experts often suggest amassing a sum equal to 8 to 12 times income by retirement, and that sum doesn’t include home equity.
  • Even if most folks aren’t in good shape for retirement, presumably some are. How many? Each year, Phoenix Marketing International calculates how many U.S. households have $1 million or more in investable assets. Based on a 4% portfolio withdrawal rate, $1 million would give you $40,000 in first-year retirement income, on top of whatever you might receive from Social Security and any pension plans. That should be enough for a comfortable, though hardly lavish, retirement. Phoenix calculates that 5.5% of U.S. households had $1 million or more in investable assets as of 2016. Maryland, Connecticut, New Jersey, Hawaii and Alaska had the highest concentration of millionaire households, at more than 7%.
  • According to the Employee Benefit Research Institute’s 2017 Retirement Confidence Survey, workers on average expect to retire at age 65. But it turns out the actual retirement age is 62. The study also found that 79% expect to work for pay once they retire, but only 29% of retirees report doing so. Cut expenses instead? Not likely. EBRI found that retirees were far more likely to say expenses in retirement were higher than expected, rather than lower.
  • New Hampshire is the best state to retire, followed by Colorado, Maine, Iowa and Minnesota, according to a Bankrate.com study. The study takes into account eight factors, including cost of living, taxes, health care, weather, crime, cultural vitality, seniors’ overall well-being and the prevalence of other seniors. The worst-ranked states are Alaska, West Virginia, Arkansas, New Mexico and Louisiana.
  • The typical Social Security retirement benefit is $1,370 a month. Social Security provides more than half the income received by a majority of retirees.
  • Inflation, which can be a major headache for retirees, ran at 2.1% in both 2017 and 2016.

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