Philip Seymour Hoffman playing the washed-up salesman, Willy Loman, in “Death of a Salesman,” is all the rage on Broadway. But when I saw the play recently, it was Biff who got me thinking about young adults today.
In the Arthur Miller classic, Willy anguishes over son Biff’s failure to hold down a job in the city. But the irony is that Biff, played by Andrew Garfield, probably did very well for himself after leaving Brooklyn for Texas. I imagine he became an oil baron or wound up owning substantial real estate in downtown Houston.
Young people graduating from high school or college today don’t have the virtually unlimited opportunity that existed in the 1940s when Miller wrote the play: the personal drive to find a job and establish a career is not enough anymore. Young graduates who sign up for unpaid internships and double up on college degrees are well aware of this.
Last year, 54 percent of adults ages 18 to 24 were employed – that was the lowest level since the government started tracking the data, in 1948 – according to a February report by the Pew Research Center. Despite an improving job market, it was only 55 percent in March. Job creation – 115,000 were added in April – is below the pace that will open up meaningful opportunity for young people. …Learn More
We know that not enough Americans save for retirement. Behavioral finance professor Shlomo Benartzi devised a way to fix it – quite awhile ago, in fact.
To ease the pain of saving money, Benartzi and economist Richard Thaler designed a now-famous program in which employees can commit to increase their 401(k)s savings when they get a raise.
Saving is painful because it requires sacrifice, but committing to save money that one doesn’t yet have synchs with human psychology. In 1998, Benartzi and Thaler tested their theory on blue-collar workers in a Midwestern manufacturing plant, and it worked.
The key to saving, Benartzi said, is “embarrassingly simple but extremely powerful.”
The finding was nothing short of ginormous, though employer adoption has been modest. David Wray, president of the Plan Sponsor Council of America, estimated that about 10 percent of U.S. employees with 401(k) plans at work have automatic savings increases, typically at raise time. It’s much more common among mega-employers, he said.
If you’ve heard about behavioral economics but haven’t had time to learn what it’s really about, this 15-minute TED video in which Benartzi explains is an excellent start.
Squared Away readers responded strongly to a recent post, “For Elderly, Little Left as Life Ends.” New research showed that half of the elderly living alone and one-third of couples have less than $10,000 left in savings in the years before they leave this world.
A comment that came in from Susan Weiner, a Boston-area chartered financial analyst, said, “This study is disturbing no matter how you read it.”
John Graves added a skeptical note: “As always, it all depends on how you read the statistics. I read this as, ‘nearly 50 percent had more than $50,000 in assets when they died.’ ”
Do you read the glass as half empty or half full? What are the difficulties of making your savings last through all the phases of retirement? To read more comments, click here. Better yet, keep the conversation going by commenting below or on our Facebook page!
In this video, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution talks about his latest book and offers a clear-sighted explanation for complex macro-economic forces that shape all Americans’ saving habits and financial security.
Starting in the early 1980s, stock markets boomed and housing prices increased year after year, and Americans “thought they were getting rich,” explains economist Barry Bosworth. “So they thought, ‘Let’s spend a little bit of it.’ “
Billions of dollars of wealth vanished in the 2008 financial market collapse, marking what may be the end of a golden era of wealth formation and undermining plans laid by workers and retirees, he said. Bosworth’s book was released last month: “A Decline in Saving: A Threat to America’s Prosperity.”
Full disclosure: The book incorporates research funded by the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) through the Retirement Research Consortium, which also funds this blog. The opinions and conclusions expressed are solely those of the blog’s author and do not represent the opinions or policy of SSA or any agency of the federal government.
A breakthrough experiment determined that some low-income tax filers are willing to save part of their IRS refund after all.
What separates savers from non-savers is each individual’s own “mental accounting.” What specifically influences them is whether their refunds exceeded their anticipation.
The research found that 7 percent of all low-income filers saved part of their refunds. But 12 percent of people who got more than they’d anticipated agreed to save – they did so by opening a savings account or buying a US savings bond or certificate of deposit. Only 4.5 percent of those who got the same as, or less than, anticipated, saved part of it.
“At tax sites, most people don’t save,” said Michael Collins, director of the Center for Financial Security at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. “But if you target the right people you might find some savers.” His research controlled for income, demographics and the refund amount. …Learn More
In the second of two videos, retirees from the Savin Hill Apartments in Boston’s Dorchester neighborhood spoke honestly about the decisions they made during their working lives that have affected their financial security in retirement. The residents come from all walks of life and from home towns ranging from Dabrowa Tarnowska, Poland, and Thomasville, Alabama, to around the corner in East Boston.
Before retiring, James Gomes said he often wasted his regular paychecks from General Electric. Arlene Starr wishes she’d saved – like her sister did. And immigrant Trung Quang Pham’s low income made it tough to set money aside.
They are residents of the Savin Hill Apartments in Boston, most of whom are “pretty much on fixed incomes,” said apartment manager Sandra Baker of CMJ Management Co.
They are not alone either. Millions of retirees rely on Social Security’s fixed monthly pensions, which average $1,181. The federal pension program provides the vast majority of retirement income for nearly one in four retired couples and nearly half of the elderly living alone. And new research for the first time determined that a large swath of the elderly leave this world with little or no assets left in savings and personal retirement accounts.
In the first of two videos, retirees in the Savin Hill Apartments generously agreed to discuss the issues they face for Squared Away. The second video – about their financial decisions and regrets over a lifetime – appears Thursday. …Learn More