Retirement: a modern fairy tale
Jan. 6, 2014
by Ivan Raconteur

Once upon a time, in a land not so far away, there was a golden adventure called retirement.

The story told of a happy time, to which workers could look forward, after four or five decades of working like fiends.

Having put in their time working for The Man, people could travel, enjoy hobbies, spend more time with their families, and generally enjoy life.

Today, the golden dream of retirement has become nothing but a fairy tale for many Americans.

Many baby boomers – those of us born between 1946 and 1964 – face the unhappy prospect of working until they drop.

Pensions have become rare, Social Security seems in danger of extinction, market fluctuations have depleted many retirement accounts, and half of Americans have failed to save enough dough to pay their expenses during retirement.

According to “The Oxford Handbook of Retirement 2013,” the percentage of workers in the US age 55 and older was 12.4 percent in 1998. It grew to 18.1 percent in 2008, and could reach 25 nearly 25 percent by 2018.

It seems clear a lot of Americans are going to be dealing with issues related to retirement – or the lack thereof – in the near future.

Many of these people may end up working longer than they want to, if they’re not financially prepared for retirement.

Forbes reported the Employee Benefit Research Institute’s 23rd annual Retirement Confidence Survey shows 57 percent of US workers (and 47 percent of those age 45 and older) said they have less than $25,000 in savings and investments, excluding their homes.

In addition, 49 percent are not confident about being able to afford a comfortable retirement, the highest level in the survey’s history.

Only 57 percent of US workers are actively saving for retirement, down from 65 percent in 2009.

Workers in lower-wage jobs are in even worse shape. Only 24 percent of workers with household incomes less than $35,000 have saved for retirement.

Seventy percent of workers say they will work for pay after retirement, which doesn’t sound nearly as much fun as traveling the world or participating in hobbies.

People are also delaying retirement.

The percentage of workers who plan to retire at age 65 or earlier has dropped from 84 percent in 1991 to just 23 percent in the most recent survey. Many people now plan to work until age 70 or later.

The average expected retirement age has gone from age 60 in the mid-1990s to 67 today.

We are working longer, and many of us are still likely to have to work at least part time after we finally do retire.

As rosy as all that might seem, it gets worse.

People expect to earn more during retirement than they actually do.

Even if we resign ourselves to the fact of having to work until the Grim Reaper comes to take us by the hand, we may not have as many options as we think we will.

In addition, many people will be forced to quit working sooner than they planned, due to poor health or inability to find a job.

We have heard old age optimistically described as “the golden years,” but surveys indicate these years will be anything but golden for most of us.

I used to think retirement was a wonderful thing.

Many people in the neighborhood where I grew up were retired, and it seemed like a delightful profession.

They came and went as they pleased, and seemed to take life at a relaxed pace.

The guys went fishing or worked on little projects around the yard or in their shops.

The women engaged in crafts and socializing, and seemed to drink a lot of coffee.

None of them were ever in a hurry, and they seemed to live life the way it ought to be lived.

That version of retirement is a fairy tale, and many of us, should we live long enough to contemplate retirement, may be more likely to be fighting for jobs we don’t want in the first place, and desperately struggling to maintain a lifestyle that is nothing like the one in the story books.

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