Goodbye, Golden Years

There is a significant article in today’s edition of The New York Times by Harvard economist Edward L. Glaeser in which the problems faced by Boomers looking towards retirement are highlighted:  “Retirement seems out of the question for increasing numbers of Americans who are saddled with debt and whose savings evaporated during the recent bust.”

Many more seniors are working than in the past — both fulltime and part-time.  That’s partly because Social Security no longer punishes those who receive benefits and continue to work, partly because work is much less arduous than it once was for many (fewer workers over age 55 are steelworkers, for example), and partly because seniors today are much healthier than in the past.

But not every senior who wants to work is working — not by a long shot.  Today nearly 450,000 Americans 65 and older are unemployed and the number of unemployed elderly job seekers has more than doubled in the last four years. Many work or want to work because they need to:  “American households saved less than 4 percent of their incomes for every year between 1999 and 2008; during this time, thrifty Germans were saving about one-tenth of their earnings. A nation that prefers spending to saving is going to find it difficult to enjoy a comfortable retirement.”

Look at this statement again for emphasis:  “A nation that prefers spending to saving is going to find it difficult to enjoy a comfortable retirement.”

There is a bit of good news here though.  The usual idea that older workers working longer is bad for younger workers is turning out not necessarily to be true. That’s some small comfort amidst a very discomforting picture.

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