The Next American Disaster Is Coming -- Here's Your Plan
There's a disaster just waiting to happen in America.
No, I am not talking about a natural disaster, government collapse or anything like that. In fact, this is a subtle, slow-moving type of disaster that will catch many off guard. Even more will choose to ignore the clear signals until it's too late.
I first noticed the faint signs of the pending American disaster on one of my many trips to the Deep South. I enjoy driving, even prefer it to flying. Visiting small towns, tasting the local cuisines and hobnobbing with the locals makes any journey nearly as much fun as the destination.
What caught my attention is the growing number of elderly folks working at Starbucks, Wal-Mart, fast-food restaurants and other entry-level places of employment. I know these jobs are usually staffed by young to early middle-age people just starting out or starting over.
In fact, one McDonald's I visited did not appear to have a single worker under 70 years of age. Now, don't get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with continuing to work long after retirement age. However, this work should only be what you love to do and by choice.
What happened to retirement being a time of relaxation, travel and being able to do what you want, when you want?
I think it's clear that most elderly workers in fast food environments are not flipping burgers because they like the atmosphere and want to get out of the house.
I am very afraid that this trend will soon become the norm across the nation. This is the pending American retirement disaster.
Just what caused this pending disaster? Over the last 30 years, there has been a shift from employer-controlled and funded pension plans to self-directed employee funded plans. While built on the idea of fairness and the do-it-yourself ethic, this change has been disastrous for the average American worker.
According to research done by Fidelity, nearly 4 in 10 retired households can't cover their monthly expenses. The research went on to reveal that 50% of Americans have less than $25,000 in total savings (not counting pension plans or primary residence). About 28% have less than $1,000 saved.
Remember, we are talking about people who have access to employer-sponsored retirement plans. If you add in the more than one-third of Americans who don't even have access to employer retirement plans, it paints a very grim picture.
Millions of underfunded and often financially illiterate baby boomers are slated to take the step into retirement over the next few years. This increase in the number of retirees may easily overwhelm the available minimum wage positions and force many into unexpected poverty or subsistence-level lifestyles. This, in turn, could be disastrous to the American economy.
What can be done to avert America's retirement apocalypse?
As a free-market proponent, I am usually averse to government meddling in the economy. However, in this case, some regulatory changes are needed to soften the coming crisis.
Ronald P. O'Hanley, Fidelity Investment's president of asset management, suggested in a recent Forbes magazine article that default savings rates be lifted from 3% to 6%, saying that even 6% is too little and the goal should be 10 to 15% if you include employer matches. He also advises that automatic annual increase programs are the single most effective means of triggering employee increases.
How can a personal retirement disaster be prevented?
While these suggestions make sense, it all boils down to individuals not saving enough and not earning enough on their savings to fund a proper retirement. With the cost of living increasing and inflation potentially on the horizon, the truth is, it's very difficult to earn enough with traditional income investments such as bonds, CDs and Treasuries to have a well-funded retirement. This is particularly true if you didn't start early or are not fortunate to have a solid employer matching program.
The first step in avoiding having to struggle in your golden years is to increase your financial literacy. Read all you can on saving, investing and money management.
Secondly, follow a solid investing plan. But that's easier said than done -- especially considering interest rates on savings accounts, Treasuries and your typical S&P 500 stocks.
If you haven't put the time and effort into thinking about how you'll invest for your retirement, it's not too late. There are plenty of options out there. But the longer you wait, the more sacrifice it will take to achieve your retirement goals. And while we can't personally stop the pending American retirement disaster, we all can control what happens to each one of us during our retirement years.