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Americans get it. They admit they aren’t saving enough for retirement and are worried. According to the 2012 Retirement Confidence Survey published by the nonprofit Employee Benefit Research Institute, only a small fraction of Americans–14 percent–are very confident that they will have enough money to live comfortably in retirement.




Researchers found that the percentage of workers who expect to retire after age 65 has increased from 11 percent in 1991 to 37 percent in the 2012 survey. This is troubling as a fallback retirement plan. It brings to mind two big questions–where will these jobs come from? And will they be hired at a certain age even if there are jobs out there?

Workers are laying their hopes on future jobs instead of trying to figure how much money they might need to live on in retirement, and save for it. Less than half of workers report they and/or their spouse have tried to calculate how much money they will need to have saved so that they can live comfortably in retirement. This is comparable to most of the percentages measured from 2003–2011 by the researchers. The 2012 survey also shows that workers often guess at how much they will need to accumulate, rather than doing a systematic retirement needs calculation.

This puzzles me on many levels. If  workers are wringing their hands about how shaky they feel about retiring “comfortably,” and, if that equates to having lots of money in the bank, then why not take a crack at running the numbers out and make some changes in your lifestyle to make it happened? Studies have shown that people who make the calculation feel more optimistic and, importantly, manage to save more over time.

Serious flaws in the work ’til you drop plan.People don’t do it for a variety of reasons beyond their control. In reality, many Americans find themselves retiring unexpectedly, and involuntarily, so that notion of retiring past 65 doesn’t actually play out. The researchers have consistently found that a large percentage of retirees leave the work force earlier than planned, a whopping 50 percent, for instance, in 2012. The reasons aren’t surprising: health problems or disability, changes at their company, such as downsizing or closure, and having to care for a spouse or another family member.

In the category of unrealistic expectations vs. reality business, the researchers have, without fail, found that workers are far more likely to expect to work for pay in retirement than retirees are to have actually worked. The percentage of workers planning to work for pay in retirement is a sizeable 70 percent, compared with just 27 percent of retirees who report they did work for pay in retirement.

Some explanations for this reality gap. It’s reportedly hard for older workers to get hired and easy to get fired. I can’t help thinking that age discrimination plays a big role. AARP surveys over the past decade repeatedly have shown that at least 60 percent of those interviewed say they have either personally faced or observed age discrimination in the workplace. And I  hear it frequently from my 50+ friends who have been laid off and are out looking for work right now.

The issue is getting some attention. Yesterday, The Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act, sponsored by Senators Tom Harkin, Chuck Grassley, and Patrick Leahy, was introduced. It’s designed to fix  a 5-4  Supreme Court decision (Gross v. FBL Financial Services, Inc.) in June 2009 that made it far more difficult for older workers to prove claims of illegal bias based on age. “This bipartisan legislation reaffirms the contributions made by older Americans in the workforce and ensures that employees will be evaluated based on their performance and not by arbitrary criteria such as age,” Senator Leahy says.

Before that decision, if a worker showed that age was a motivating factor in an adverse employment decision, say, he was fired, even if other factors also played a role, the employer had to prove that it had taken the action for another reason, not age discrimination. After the Gross decision, workers  have had to prove that the employer would not have taken the  action “but for” their age – in other words, that age played the determining role – a significantly higher standard of proof. ”Until Congress passes this remedial bill, too many older workers who have been victims of age discrimination will be denied a fair shake because of the Gross decision.” Nancy LeaMond, Executive Vice President of AARP says. (Check out AARP Blogger Deb Silverberg’s recent post A Perfect Storm for Age Discrimination for more on this issue).

For older workers, who lose a job and want to keep working, the average duration of unemployment for older workers is more than one year, above the average nine months  for workers under age 55.  Simply put, it’s hard get past the hiring manager who can only see your expiration date.

It’s likely that not all workers who would like to work in retirement will find paid employment, the EBRI researchers conclude.  They may be right. I don’t have that answer. But I do know there are some things you can do to stay in the fight.

If working in retirement is your future fallback position, you need to spend time now planning and possibly retraining, so you can find a great job. While your actual age might be a turn-off for employers, your creaky skill set might be another roadblock. There is a perception that when people hit a certain age they simply say no to learning new technology, or complain about it, rather than get on board with it. I admit it can be time-consuming and frustrating. (In fact, my teenage niece thinks I’m hopeless at times, but she cheerfully teaches me how to navigate my way).




Web navigation skills are nonnegotiable. You need a professional e-mail address, a LinkedIn profile, even  a Twitter and Facebook account to help troll for possible contacts and opportunities. Conducting an initial interview via Skype is becoming popular with employers, too.

And attitude can also hold you back. You might not even realize it. You have to shuck the sense of entitlement, swallow your pride and be willing to accept jobs reporting to younger workers who potentially make more than you do–at least to get your foot in the door.

EBRI and co-sponsor Mathew Greenwald & Associates, Inc., a Washington, DC-based market research firm, gathered the data for the 2012 Retirement Confidence Survey in January 2012 through 20-minute telephone interviews with 1,262 individuals (1,003 workers and 259 retirees) age 25 and older in the United States. They’ve done a great job capturing a snapshot of Americans’ lack of faith in their ability save and concerns for the future. The low confidence among workers when it comes to having enough money to live comfortably in retirement, once again sends a  clear  message that if you’re one of the growing number of people without a direct benefit pension plan, wake up. You need to take action and learn to manage your assets more effectively.

A final note, and it relates to technology luddite concerns I have already mentioned: The researchers found that only a minority of workers and retirees feel very comfortable using online technologies to perform various tasks related to financial management–from shifting money from one account or investment to another online, using calculators online to assist them with financial decisions, purchasing financial products online or obtaining advice from financial professionals online.

In today’s world, you’ve got to be comfortable managing your finances online. It’s inescapable. So find a new best friend who is a computer geek to be your tech tutor, or sign up for a course. Community colleges, adult education centers, the Osher LifeLong Learning Institute, which has 117 locations around the country, and local libraries offer classes that can help you get up to speed. There are even how-to videos on YouTube from CNET, the tech website.

To re-phrase Timothy Leary’s 1967 mantra, turn on, tune in, don’t drop out.

I’m the author of What’s Next? Follow Your Passion and Find Your Dream Job, available here Research for this article stems in part from  my fellowship in the 2011-2012 MetLife Foundation Journalists in Aging Fellowship program created by New America Media and the Gerontological Society of America. To learn about great jobs for retirees, check out my column on AARP. Follow me on Twitter, @KerryHannon

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