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Worried About … Retirement?

by Dennis Jacobe

This is the first in a series of articles on Americans' levels of concern with a variety of financial and economic issues.

Recently, Gallup asked Americans about the specific financial issues that they're personally most worried about. Given the recent recession, one might think that the public's greatest financial concern would involve immediate issues such as not having enough money to pay medical bills, credit card bills, or rent. That's not the case; the single financial issue generating stress among the most Americans is the prospect of not having enough money for retirement.

Overall, Gallup poll data (April 2002)* reveal that more than half of all Americans (54%) say they are very worried (25%) or moderately worried (29%) about not having enough money for retirement. Significantly, men and women share this concern; as do people of all ages and income levels.

Factors contributing to the collective anxiety level doubtlessly include the aging of the baby boom generation and the well-publicized challenges facing the Social Security system. Still, I think another key reason why so many Americans are currently worried about having enough money for retirement has to do with the stock market losses over the last couple of years.

Numbers of Americans will be depending on their savings to provide them with a comfortable living during retirement. Many will be doing so to a greater degree than ever before because many companies have restructured their retirement programs over the past decade. While many economists talk about how the declining stock market has produced a negative "wealth effect" that influences consumer spending, few observers point out the longer-term implications of this negative wealth effect. The simple fact is that many Americans have lost much of their savings during the past couple of years, and they do not have much time to replace their losses. As a result, they fear that their retirement will be a lot less comfortable than they had hoped.

Given their worries about having enough money for retirement, it is not surprising that many more Americans plan to continue working after they retire (see Related Items). The question is whether our society will figure out a way to make these older -- and nominally retired workers --a highly productive part of the workforce of the future.

Worry Is High Across Age and Gender Groups

While a higher percentage of women (58%) than men (49%) say they are moderately or very worried about having enough money for retirement, both genders are clearly concerned. Not surprisingly, a smaller percentage (45%) of younger Americans aged 18 to 29 say they are moderately or very worried about retirement than those aged 30 to 49 (63%) or those aged 50 to 64 (62%). Still, a substantial percentage of Americans in all pre-retirement age groups are concerned about retirement.

Worry Is Also High Across Income Groups

As might be expected, the lowest income group (those making less than $20,000 annually) has the highest percentage (64%) of those worried about having enough money to retire. The highest income group (those making $75,000 or more a year) has the lowest percentage (42%) of those worried about retirement, although this percentage is still quite significant.

*Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,003 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted April 8-11, 2002. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3%.

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