401k Savers Make Little Progress

Despite the mounting pressures on Americans of all ages to save for retirement, our saving habits haven’t changed in 10 years.

The combined employer and employee contributions to 401(k)s consistently hover around 10 percent of workers’ pay, according to “How America Saves 2018,” an annual report by Vanguard, which administers thousands of employer 401(k)s and other defined contribution plans.

Retirement account balances aren’t going up either. The typical participant’s 401(k) balance is no larger than it was in 2007, even though accounts grew 7 percent last year, to $26,000, thanks to a strong stock market. The balances, when adjusted for inflation, are slightly smaller.

The growing adoption of 401(k) plans that automatically enroll their workers is having both negative and positive influences on the account balances.  Employers tend to set employees’ contributions in these plans at a low 3 percent of their pay.  This has had a depressing effect on balances, but it has been offset somewhat in recent years by a modification to auto-enrollment plans: more employers are automatically increasing their workers’ contribution rates periodically.

Baby boomers with a few short years left to save are particularly under pressure to increase their savings. The typical boomer has accumulated only $71,000 in his current employer’s retirement account, according to Vanguard. Total account balances are generally larger, however – though still often inadequate – because many baby boomers have rolled over savings from past employer 401(k)s into their personal IRA accounts.

Overall, the situation for all workers hasn’t really changed and neither has Vanguard’s message to future retirees.

“Going forward, we need to reach for higher contribution rates for more individuals,” Jean Young, senior research analyst says in the company’s video above. …Learn More

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Why Less-educated Men Retire Younger

retirement age by educationMen with high school diplomas are retiring around age 63 – three years before college-educated men.  The gap in their retirement ages used to be smaller.

The reasons behind the current disparity are explained in a review of research studies on the topic by Matt Rutledge, an economist with the Center for Retirement Research.  The trend for women is similar, though their story is complicated by a sharp rise in their participation in the labor force in recent decades.

Rutledge provides four reasons that less-educated men are still the lion’s share of early retirees:

Health. Older Americans are generally getting healthier and living longer – so why not wait to retire? Well, the health of less-educated people is poorer and has improved less over time than their more-educated coworkers. And health problems trump unemployment and other types of job losses as the single biggest reason for their early retirements – more so than for better-educated workers.

Labor Market.  Two aspects of the labor market are relevant to less-educated workers.  In the past, a large share of the retiree population could count on a guaranteed monthly income from a pension. Today, the workers who have a retirement savings plan have an incentive to delay retirement, because they will have to rely on the often inadequate and uncertain income that can be withdrawn from their 401(k)s. But less-educated workers haven’t been affected very much by the change, because they’ve never been big beneficiaries of employer retirement plans. In the 1990s, they could claim just 11 percent of the value in pensions, and today they hold 11 percent of the wealth in 401(k) plans.

A second change in the labor market is plummeting U.S. manufacturing employment since the 1980s, which reduced the physical demands of work.  But myriad working conditions remain relatively poor for less-educated workers and are still a powerful reason for them to retire. …Learn More

map of Washington DC

Meeting to Focus on Retirement Research

It’s not too late to sign up to attend the Retirement Research Consortium’s (RRC) 20th annual meeting in Washington on Thursday and Friday, August 2 and 3.

Its purpose is to provide RRC researchers from around the country an opportunity to present their working papers to colleagues, the press, policy experts, and financial professionals. The consortium’s studies are all funded by the U.S. Social Security Administration.

The researchers will cover a variety of financial and policy issues facing workers and retirees. Topics will include the gains in longevity when retirement is delayed, widows’ poverty, and an analysis of low-income workers’ earnings and retirement prospects.

Another paper explores the decline in the share of total U.S. earnings that are being covered by Social Security as increases at the top of the income scale outpace increases in the payroll tax cap.  The links between money management and cognitive impairment among the elderly will be explored by one panel.

The members of the research consortium are the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, which sponsors this blog; the University of Michigan Retirement Research Center; and the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Please join us!Learn More

Boomer Bulge Still Impacts Labor Force

A theme runs through the infographic below: aging baby boomers are still a force of nature.

Created by Georgetown University’s Center for Retirement Initiatives, the infographic uses demographic data to show that boomers remain important to the labor market even as they grow older.

More than 9 million people over 65 work – a steep 65 percent increase in just a decade.

Two things primarily explain this increase. One reason is hardly surprising: the post-World War II baby boom that created the largest generation in history also created the largest living adult population (though Millennials will soon catch up).

On top of this, baby boomers are working longer for myriad reasons – among them, better health, inadequate retirement savings, and more education – which drives up their participation in the labor force.

To see boomers’ other impacts on work, click here for the entire infographic.

infographic
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Readers Like a Travel Twist on Finances

Two of our readers’ favorite articles so far this year connected difficult bread and butter issues – personal finance and retirement – with a far more pleasant topic: travel.

The most popular blog profiled a Houston couple scouting locations for a dream retirement home in South America, which has a lower cost of living.  Another well-read blog was about Liz Patterson, a young carpenter in Colorado who built a $7,000 tiny house on a flat-bed trailer to radically reduce her expenses – so she could travel more.

The downsizing efforts of 27-year-old Patterson inspired several older readers to post comments to the blog about their own downsizing. “From children’s cribs and toys in the attic, to collectible things from my parents’ 70-year marriage!” Elaine wrote. “Purging has been heart wrenching and frustrating and long overdue!”

The following articles attracted the most interest from our readers in the first six months of 2018. Topics ranged from 401(k)s, income taxes, and Americans’ uneven participation in the stock market to geriatric care managers. Each headline includes a link to the blog. …Learn More

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Kids Figure into Retirement Plans

The grocery shopping for five is over, the family cell phone plan has been canceled, and the college tuition has been paid one last time.

So what’s next?

Newly minted empty nesters, having poured a couple hundred thousand dollars into raising each child, respond to their financial liberation in one of two ways. Some start saving more for their golden years. The others keep spending at that elevated level – but this time on themselves.

This personal decision, made at the critical juncture in the pre-retirement years, will have consequences for retirement – save more and things could turn out pretty well, or keep spending and jeopardize financial security in old age.

In the aggregate, at least some older households are taking the second approach. An analysis by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, finds that having children translates to “a moderate increase” in the risk that their standard of living will fall after they retire.

The researchers looked at the financial implications of kids from two angles. First, they used household data to estimate the sacrifices parents make – in the form of lower income – while they are raising children. Then they looked ahead to their retirement finances.

Compared with childless couples, parents in their 30s and 40s have about 3 percent less income for each additional child – some of this loss occurs when mothers work part-time temporarily or take time out for childbearing and childrearing. The income gap between parents and childless couples closes when parents reach their 50s and the kids start leaving the roost.

Less income over a lifetime translates to less wealth: parenthood reduces wealth by about 4 percent per child for workers ages 30-59.

The effects of children persist even after the transition from work to retirement. …Learn More

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1 in 4 Can’t Afford a Summer Vacation

What a drag. One in four Americans said they can’t afford to take a vacation this summer.

The 3.8 percent unemployment rate is at its lowest since 2000, when the high-technology industry was going gangbusters. Despite the economy’s current strength, the cost of a vacation puts it out of reach for millions of people.

The average family of four spends about $4,000 on vacation, Bankrate said. Air fares don’t seem to be the issue – they are lower now than they were five years ago. But families living on a limited budget are more likely to drive, and the price of gasoline has shot up 25 percent over the past year, to around $2.90 per gallon.

Many people are shortchanging themselves on vacations, because they are “living paycheck to paycheck,” analyst Greg McBride said in a recent Bankrate blog.

Indeed, workers paid on an hourly basis can’t seem to get ahead. Their wage increases, adjusted for inflation, have been flat over the past year. Further, one in four U.S. households couldn’t come up with $2,000 even in an emergency, according to one widely cited study a few years ago. A summer vacation is probably out of the question for them.

Everyone needs a little time off to decompress and relax. Yes, it would be great to go on a deluxe fishing trip to Canada or cycle around Tuscany for two weeks, but there are more affordable ways to enjoy a few days off. A “staycation” is better than nothing. And the cost of a trip can be kept under $500 – one in four people do it, Bankrate said.

But cost isn’t the only reason people skip their vacation – family and work obligations also get in the way. A majority of workers, according to Bankrate, aren’t even using all of their paid vacation days.Learn More

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