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Brett Arends's ROI

Sept. 26, 2020, 12:56 p.m. EDT

Your retirement probably won’t be anything like your parents’…and that’s not good news

By Brett Arends

When are we going to get real about the looming retirement and aging crisis in this country? 

If we don’t do something it’s going to make the COVID-19 crisis look like a walk in the park.

The latest evidence that there’s an iceberg straight ahead comes courtesy of the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies , which has just published its 20 annual retirement survey of U.S. workers. They commissioned polling company Harris to survey about 5,300 workers. Oh, and most of the data were accumulated last fall and winter—before the crisis struck and made things even worse. Among all the depressing data points, arguably none is more gloomy than the news that 48% of women, and 56% of men, have a serious, well-thought-out plan for dealing with their long-term care needs when they get old.

The plan? “Family and friends.”

No, really.

Amazingly, they say spouses are only half of that as well. They’re genuinely relying on friends, and family members other than spouses, to pitch in, too.

Read: Hope to retire someday? See if you can answer these six simple questions

Cue the sound of palms hitting foreheads in financial planners’ offices across the country.

As someone who once helped provide long-term care to a family member for over a year, let me say: You really don’t want to go there if you can possibly help it.

A report commissioned by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found that about 70% of those who reach 65 are going to need long-term care at some point.

Boston-based financial planner Sandra Gilpatrick warns, “You shouldn’t assume your family will live near you to make care easy. They may have their own financial or life struggles making it a major burden or impossible to give care later.”

She adds: “Spouses close in age may think they can take care of each other when they have a conversation at 60. Fast forward to 85 and it is a tremendous physical strain to try to lift someone out of a chair. Giving care can rapidly deteriorate the healthier spouse as well.”

Meanwhile, I don’t want to give you the wrong impression. I don’t want to suggest that the failure to prepare for long-term care needs is the only part of the survey that is alarming.

It isn’t.

Among the men surveyed, the median household retirement savings were…$69,000.

Heavens. A man of 65 with that amount of money can buy a lifetime annuity worth, oh, $330 a month according to  immediateannuities.com . Among the women surveyed, the median household retirement savings were less than half as much, a mere $28,000. Just under a third of the women surveyed had $10,000 or less set aside.

To give you a flavor of how dismal this is, if you type “$28,000” into the “Amount to Invest” box at immediateannuities.com , to see how much of an annuity this will get you, it tells you that number is below their minimum threshold for calculations.

Mmm. Good times.

As usual, everyone is wringing their hands about the financial struggles of the poor millennial generation, but the picture arguably looks even bleaker for Generation X—the largely overlooked cohort born between 1965 and 1980.

Generation X men reported median retirement savings of $80,000 and Gen X women $46,000. For people who are already aged 40 to 55, with diminishing numbers of years left in which to accumulate wealth, these are alarmingly low numbers. (By contrast, baby boomer men reported median household retirement savings over $200,000.) More than a quarter of Gen X women said they had less than $10,000 set aside for retirement.

Maybe it’s no wonder. Gen Xers have dealt with three or four “once in a lifetime” economic collapses in their adult careers, including not only Covid but also the Great Recession and the worst housing collapse since the Great Depression, the stock market crash, economic slump and terrorism crisis of the early 2000s, and a really dismal economic slump of the early 1990s.

They got little uplift from the stock market boom of the late 1990s, which came too early for them to have a lot to invest, but were around and pouring money into their 401(k) accounts during the dismal decade that followed.

Ouch.

Meanwhile, the survey confirms that women are in a worse position for retirement than men. That’s because of the infamous double whammy. On the one hand they are likely to accumulate fewer retirement savings in the first place, because they are apt to earn less and take more time out of full-time work. But on the other hand they actually need more than men because they tend to live longer.

No wonder just over half of men and women polled said they planned to retire after age 65, if at all. And 38% of men, and 27% of women, say they plan to carry on working in “retirement.”

The only thing we know for sure at this point? This won’t be your parents’ retirement—for good or ill.

Link to MarketWatch's Slice.