In a report issued more than two years ago, the National Insitute on Retirement Security said that more than 100 million Americans had no retirement savings whatsoever.
As Diane Oakley, NIRS executive director, observed:
The facts and data are clear. Retirement is in peril for most working-class Americans . . . When all working individuals are considered–not just the minority with retirement accounts–the typical working American has zero, zilch, nothing saved for retirement.
The NIRS partly blamed the recession of 2007 for the bad news. But the report was issued before the coronavirus put millions of people out of work. Over the past year, Americans have dipped into their savings and their retirement accounts just to pay today’s bills.
A 2019 report came up with similar findings. A GobankingRanks survey concluded that almost two out of three Americans (64 percent) will retire broke. And–shockingly–nearly half of the people surveyed said they’d didn’t care!
Clearly, millions of Americans are not preparing for their retirement years. Many workers don’t make enough money to fund a retirement account, and others are overwhelmed with consumer debt–home mortgages, car payments, and credit card bills.
And student-loan debt is a significant contributor to Americans’ precarious financial status. More than 40 million people have outstanding student debt, and less than half that number are paying it off. Nine million student-loan debtors are in long-term income-based repayment plans, which means they will never pay down their loan balances.
What is going to happen to all these impecunious Americans when they reach retirement age?
A great many will just keep working until they die or become too incapacitated to be a Walmart greeter. Others will tap the equity in their homes or draw down their meager savings just to pay their utility bills. Some will move in with their kids–who will have their own financial troubles.
As a recent New Yorker article noted, there is a growing movement to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour. That amounts to an annual salary of about $30,000 a year. Congress will probably lift the federal minimum wage substantially in the near future–maybe to $15 an hour.
Thus, if the minimum wage is roughly doubled, elderly Americans who work full-time at Wendy’s for $15 an hour will generate enough income to keep them above the poverty line.
Working on your feet for eight hours a day is difficult for people in their seventies. Many will have to pop Chinese-manufactured Advils to keep their arthritis under control. But it can be done.
But the days when Americans referred to retirement as the Golden Years are over. For many Americans, their last years will not be golden. They will be difficult, bitter, and depressing.