America’s Retirement Crisis

National Institute on Retirement SecurityA new nationwide public opinion research report finds that an overwhelming majority of Americans – 86 percent – believe that the nation faces a retirement crisis. Nearly 75 percent of Americans are concerned about their ability to achieve a secure retirement, and support for steady and reliable retirement income from a pension is high and growing. Some 82 percent say a pension is worth having because it provides steady income that won’t run out, while 67 percent indicate that they would be willing to take less in salary increases in exchange for guaranteed income in retirement.

The poll results also reveal that Americans remain frustrated that leaders in Washington fail to understand their struggle to save for retirement (87 percent), and want national policymakers to give more attention to retirement issues (84 percent). Regarding state efforts to improve retirement security, 71 percent of Americans agree that “Secure Choice” plans are a good idea. These plans are aimed at giving all Americans access to retirement plans via payroll deduction.

These findings are contained in a new research report, Retirement Security 2015: Roadmap for Policy Makers | Americans’ Views of the Retirement Crisis, issued today by the National Institute on Retirement Security (NIRS) at the organization’s sixth annual retirement policy conference in Washington, D.C. 

  • The conference program is available here.
  • Watch a live webcast of the event and a review of the new research findings here.
  • Download the report here.

“The data evidence is irrefutable that the nation faces a retirement crisis,” said Diane Oakley, NIRS executive director. “This poll reveals that Americans understand the severity of this crisis, and they want action and reform,” she said.

We also learned how Americans plan to cope with retirement insecurity: 77 percent intend to cut back spending in retirement while 72 percent plan to stay in their current job as long as possible. These coping mechanisms clearly have broader implications. That is, older workers staying on the job crowds out younger workers, and decreased retiree spending has negative economic consequences.

More specifically, the research finds that:

  • An overwhelming majority of Americans believe there is a retirement crisis. Some 86 percent agree that the nation faces a retirement crisis, and 57 percent strongly agree there is a crisis.
  • Three in four Americans remain highly anxious about their retirement outlook, but the concern has dissipated slightly as the economy has recovered. Some 74 percent of Americans say they are concerned, down from 85 percent as reported in the 2013 study.
  • Even though Americans feel slightly less stressed about their retirement prospects, support for steady and reliable retirement income from a pension is high and growing. In fact, 82 percent say a pension is worth having because it provides steady income that will not run out, while 67 percent of Americans indicate they would be willing to take less in pay increases in exchange for guaranteed income in retirement.
  • Americans continue to feel that leaders in Washington do not understand their struggle to save for retirement, and they strongly support efforts by states to set up retirement plans for those workers without access to an employer sponsored plan. Some 87 percent of Americans say Washington policymakers do not understand how hard it is to prepare for retirement, while 84 percent say Washington needs to do more to help ensure retirement security.
  • Americans see retirement benefits as a job feature that is almost as important as salary. Salary is viewed as important by 75 percent of Americans, and retirement benefits are close behind at 72 percent.
  • Americans express strong support for pensions for public employees. Few Americans realize that 75 percent of public pension costs are paid for with employee contributions and investment returns. Some 87 percent of Americans say pensions are a good way to recruit and retain qualified teachers, police officers and firefighter. But, only one-fourth of Americans understood that public employers pay for 25 percent or less of public pension costs. More than eight out of ten-a vast majority of Americans-say that all employees, not just the public sector, should have a pension.
  • Protecting Social Security benefits is increasingly important. Some 73 percent of Americans say it is a mistake to cut government spending in such a way as to reduce Social Security benefits for current retirees, up from 67 percent in 2013. When it comes to benefits for future generations, 69 percent oppose cutting government spending that reduces Social Security benefits. Americans are divided when it comes to increasing the amount of Social Security benefits by delaying the withdrawal of benefits at an older age: 42 percent agree with a delay while 52 percent disagree.

This biennial nationwide public opinion research is the fourth poll that measures how Americans feel about their financial security in retirement and assesses their views on policies that could improve their retirement outlook. It is intended to serve as a tool for policymakers, thought leaders and retirement service providers as they work to stem the retirement crisis and re-fortify the U.S. retirement infrastructure.

The polling was conducted by Greenwald & Associates as a nationwide telephone interview of 801 Americans age 25 or older. The data was balanced to reflect U.S. demographics for age, gender, and income. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.5 percent.

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