There’s a Retirement Crisis in America

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  • The three “legs” of the retirement “stool” (private savings, pensions, and Social Security) are all in dire shape.
  • At Vanguard, the median 401(k) account value for an investor age 65 and older is a measly $58,035.
  • After looking at the data, the Saint Louis Fed concluded: “It could be worrisome that, for many American households, the total balances of their retirement accounts may not be sufficient to ensure a solid life in retirement.”
  • CNBC has unveiled “Invest in You: Ready. Set. Grow,” a financial wellness initiative in partnership with Acorns, which will offer a variety of actionable personal finance content aimed at helping empower people to develop savings strategies.


It’s financial literacy month, do you know where your retirement is?

CNBC Chairman Mark Hoffman rings the NASDAQ opening bell today to kick off the special month, created in 2003 to teach Americans how to establish and maintain healthy financial habits.

Americans can sure use help with retirement. Baby boomers, in particular, have not saved nearly enough for retirement. They’re going to live longer than they think, and if trends continue, many will run out of money before they die.

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Just look at the state of the three “legs” of the retirement “stool:” private savings, pensions, and Social Security.

Private Savings:

Let’s start with private savings. At Vanguard, the average 401(k) account value for an investor age 65 and older is $192,877 in 2018, but that number is inflated by a small group of long-time super-savers. The median balance among the age group, where half have more and half have less, is a measly $58,035.

Average that out over 20 years — most Americans should expect to live into their 80s — and that is not a lot to pull out on a yearly basis, perhaps a little more than $3,000.

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Some lucky Americans have more than one retirement plan, because they may have had multiple employers. Their picture is brighter than the example above, but it doesn’t change the overall picture too much.


The state of those who have pensions are not much better. The median private pension was only $9,376 a year, according to the Pension Rights Center (state, local and federal pensions were higher).

Social Security:

That leaves us with Social Security. In 2018, the average Social Security check was $1,422 a month or $17,064 a year.

So let’s add up what our yearly payments are:

  • Personal savings $3,000
  • Pension $9,376
  • Social Security $17,064

Total: $29,440


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