Retirement's a myth

By Jenny Ivy
May 18, 2011
It's OK to talk about retirement. Even if it's only for the just-in-case – you know, in case you actually do retire.

A new survey of more than 4,000 workers by the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies reveals only 9 percent of workers actually have frequent discussions about saving, investing, and planning for retirement with their friends and family.

Twenty-seven percent never discuss it.

Many other figures paint an even more desperate picture. Only 10 percent of workers have a written retirement strategy; 22 percent don't participate in their employer plan; 71 percent admit they need more education on saving and investing; and for 39 percent, their retirement plan is either to keep working past age 70 or never retire.

But planning to keep working is not viable, and it shouldn't be categorized as a tangible plan, says the Center's President Catherine Collinson. "The idea of planning not to retire is not a retirement strategy," Collinson said Tuesday during a conference call.

It's also not very feasible. "Too often unforeseen circumstances can dictate otherwise," Collinson says. Just look at the critical illness statistics (critical illness being one of many factors that could impede the ability to work). According to a study last year from the American Association for Critical Illness, half of male smokers over the age of 35 will incur a critical illness before age 65. Female smokers have a 35 percent chance.

So how about a backup plan? In most cases, there isn't one; the Transamerica survey found only 19 percent of workers actually have a plan B in case they're unable to work before planned retirement.

Still, on the cusp of a coming crisis, there's at least one generation that persists to do something about it. Echo Boomers – the go-getters born after 1978 – have continued to increase participation in company retirement plans while Gen Xers and Baby Boomers have stayed relatively the same. Between 2007 and 2011, Echo Boomer participation in company retirement plans surged from 53 percent to 70 percent. That's about as much enthusiasm as they've shown for the iPad.

"[Echo Boomers] are the ones most likely to have to fully self-fund their retirement, and they're getting a head start by joining their workplace plans," Collinson says. So it's a safe guess they'll be able to reach their retirement goals by age 65 if they stay this ambitious.

Nearly 80 million Echo Boomers influence just about every facet of American culture, from Hollywood to Madison Avenue to the White House. With this much power, this generation could (let's hope) cultivate a new retirement ideology.

This article originally appeared on the BenefitsPro web site, a Summit Business Media publication. 2011 BenefitsPro.