Retirement By The Numbers

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 7, 2000

Arising stock market and rapidly escalating property values, while adding general prosperity, disguise the fact that for many Baby Boomers now turning 50 their eminent retirement might not be a pretty picture.

Over the next 20 years, 76 million Americans born between 1946 and 1964 will hit the half-century mark. For most, that means facing up to the hard questions of how, or even if, they will be able to afford retirement.

With fat company pension plans now ancient history, and Social Security rapidly becoming an uncertainty, the lifestyle of retirement is no longer golfing, fishing and travel. In fact, the lifestyle of retirement may, for some, be &uot;Cat Food Not Caviar.&uot;

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The latest census figures indicate that only one in every ten Americans today is financially prepared to retire when they reach age 65. Here are a few other facts on retirement gathered from a variety of sources.

— Forty-seven percent of U.S. households are not covered by either a defined benefit or defined contribution plan (The WEFA Group). Twenty-five percent of employees who qualify for 401(k) plans do not contribute to them (an estimate from Buck Consultants).

— At the end of WWII, there were 42 workers paying into Social Security for each person receiving benefits. Today, barely three people contribute for each recipient. Projections are that by 2030, when most baby boomers will have retired, just two working people will contribute for each person receiving benefits (Social Security Administration, Trust Funds Report, 1992).

— Social Security benefits will replace only 16% of the income of married couples earning $50,000 to $100,000 and only 9.5% of the income of married couple earning $100,000 and only 9.5% of the income of married couple earning $100,000 and only 9.5% of the income of married couples earning $100,000-plus (Office of Research and Economic Analysis, Pension and Welfare Administration).

— Sixty-nine percent of American adults aged 25 to 44 expect to retire in the &uot;traditional sense of spending retirement in leisure. But reality hits home as they near retirement 63% of 45 to 54-year-olds expect a retirement of leisure, and only 49% of those 55 or older say the same.

— Working people tend to think their retirement lifestyle will be better than their current lifestyle, but retirees report their standard of living has declined. Example: Twenty-six percent of workers say they are &uot;just making ends meet,&uot; but only 16% think they will live this way in retirement. Of retirees, 20% are &uot;just making ends meet, while 16% describe their pre-retirement lifestyle this way.

— A Baby Boom Retirement Savings Index shows that as of November 1994, baby boomers were saving only 38.2% of what they will need to maintain growth-adjusted living standards in retirement. The index is basically unchanged in the three years the index has been published.

The above vignettes do not make pleasant reading for those soon to be 50. If nothing else, this information should serve as a wake-up call for many of you who need to seriously address retirement planning.