There are many ways the U.S. government has enticed Americans to save for retirement, but they still haven’t been enough to get people to actually do it. An article in Bloomberg Opinion asks whether the government should even be involved at all, and what is preventing people from making better financial decisions for their futures.
Planning for retirement is unnecessarily complicated for two reasons, the article contends: people don’t seem to be particularly good about thinking far ahead to the distant future, and there are policies in place that aren’t helping. In recent years, saving for retirement has shifted away from relying on employers to provide pension plans to relying on individuals to save enough money on their own, make their own investments, and create a plan for making those savings last. Many young people put off saving for retirement because it seems so far off, and they’re likely not earning enough to put a chunk of it away for such a distant future. Also, managing retirement accounts can seem overwhelming, and oftentimes younger employees pass up the opportunities their employers may be providing, such as matching funds. In addition, those that do invest often make mistakes because they are inexperienced. Individual retirement accounts earn substantially worse returns than the company pension plans of yesteryear, on average.
All told, when retirement arrives, Americans aren’t ready for it. According to 2019 data, almost half the population nearing retirement didn’t have any money saved in a 401(k) or individual account. And those that did only had an average balance of $144,000—not nearly enough to last into old age. It’s not just an individual problem, the article explains: state budgets will be overwhelmed by an aging population below the poverty line, and younger family members will have to take time away from their own careers—during prime earning years—to care for them.
The government should set up an easier retirement-savings system to help people make better choices and avoid financial predators that can prey on aging investors who may be desperate to save but could also be experiencing age-related cognitive decline. Though the federal government has been encouraging companies to automatically enroll their employees into savings plans, there are still so many haphazard incentives and options that retirement saving remains confusing and not nearly sufficient to help the huge swath of the American population whose once-distant future is getting closer by the day.