We all know America is facing a retirement crisis. We’ve talked about it on this blog and Americans express their worries in opinion polls. Experts tell us that Americans are not saving enough for retirement. Now it’s time to take a hard look at the numbers.
Forty-five percent of private sector workers don’t have access to a retirement plan through their job. Sixty percent of those who do have a access to a retirement plan are stuck with 401(k)’s, which favor the wealthy and have failed the middle class. Low-income Americans particularly struggle to save for retirement because low-wage, hourly jobs are much less likely to offer any type of retirement plan. In fact, among workers at the bottom of the wage scale, only 21 percent have any money in a retirement account.
Women face greater retirement insecurity than men. In part this is because they are more likely to spend time out of the labor force, raising children or performing caregiving duties. Also, the gender wage gap that exists during their working years follows them into retirement. This results in women having only 59 percent of the retirement income of men.
African-Americans have seen their wealth plummet in recent years, a consequence of the Great Recession, which wiped out housing values- a main source of wealth for black households. Now, three-quarters of black households have less than $10,000 in total savings for retirement. Latinos have the lowest rates of retirement security of any group. Partly this is because they are more likely to work in low-wage jobs without access to a retirement plan- an obstacle they share with all low-wage workers. But it is also because Latinos are much less likely to work in the public sector, where defined benefit pensions are more common these days.
In light of these numbers, it’s more important than ever for presidential candidates, governors, and other political leaders to offer solutions to the retirement security crisis. Rather than offering plans to raise the retirement age for Social Security or to dismantle public pensions for working families, lawmakers need to be strengthening public pensions, which do offer a safe and secure retirement. They should also address ways to expand access to retirement savings for more Americans. Otherwise, the United States faces the prospect of an entire generation retiring into poverty.