The old Aesop’s Fable, The Ant and the Grasshopper, came to mind upon reading the survey put forth by Wells Fargo on the subject of retirement. In the fable, the grasshopper tries to invite the ants to have fun and enjoy summer, but instead the ants keep toiling away, building up a food reservoir for the harsh winter. By winter time the grasshopper has nothing left and is dying in the cold, hungry and alone. The grasshopper sees life as short and something to be enjoyed, and the ants saw life as long and something to be endured. The moral is “It is best to prepare for the days of necessity.”
However, if current trends are any indication, more and more ants are becoming increasingly unable to save for the future despite their working summer after summer.
‘Dying’ is not a retirement plan
First, let’s talk about what Wells Fargo found in their survey:
Nearly 48 percent of non-retirees, age 50-59, do not believe they will be able to survive on what they have saved for retirement.
22% of the middle class say they would rather “die early” than not have enough money to live comfortably in retirement.
A quarter of all middle-class Americans say they “get depressed” when thinking about their financial life in retirement. However, the rate of those who feel down about retirement increases to one in three for those in their 40s and 50s.
Now, what comes to mind, is that if a quarter of the middle class, or those making an average of $50,000-$99,999 per year, would rather die early than face financial insecurity in old age, what are they going to have to put in retirement to feel secure?
A retirement policy worker and economics professor, Teresa Ghilarducci, estimated that individuals would have to save 20 times their annual income to live comfortably into retirement. Most people enter retirement age with less than $30,000 in savings—according to current poverty rates, this is enough to live on uncomfortably for only a few years.
Falling average incomes may play factor in ability to save for ‘winter’
Consider, also, the average income for the middle class has dropped an average of 8 percent between 2007 and 2012. More workers are drifting away from the middle and upper classes, while the lower class experienced a 15 percent increase.
While conservatives vehemently deny that income inequality is a growing problem or that wage increases are needed, their policies or votes have had a negative effect on Americans and will continue to have a negative impact well into the future. Looking at the bigger picture: the unwillingness to budge on issues such as increasing minimum wage, lowering student loan rates, gender pay gap (despite the Lily Ledbetter Act, the gap still thrives) and the willful lack of regulations on business is starting to create a rain-cloud that will turn into a tropical storm over the next few decades.
In 2012, the poverty line for income sat at $11,945 per year ((for a single person) $23,050 for family of four). Low income is calculated between poverty wage and up to $49,999 per year. Lower income earners are statistically less likely to save enough for retirement, even if they have a 401k, and even more expect to work well after retirement age (62). However, statistics show that unemployment rates for workers over the age of 50 are high.
If you take into consideration also that 76 percent of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck, and that most don’t have money in savings, a clearer picture becomes evident that our country will be in a financial crisis if there is no give by republicans in congress for financial issues.
When did the fable change for working American ants?
Before considering just simply laying down and dying, perhaps asking for change in the structure of retirement is a better path?