Looking forward to your golden years? If you did 20 years of military service you will get there, likewise if you were diligent about saving and investing. Otherwise, join most of the rest of Americans throughout history whose retirement plan was very different. You might reasonably ask how this can be when the World War II and Korean War generation is having a relatively prosperous retirement. Consider the following:
People who are at least 70 lived through one or more of three of the most harrowing events in American history: the Great Depression, World War II, and the hot part of the Cold War – the Korean War. You would have to go back to the Civil War, almost a century before, to find a time when an entire generation of Americans collectively suffered so much.
These hardships had a profound effect on the behavior and values of what has come to be called the Greatest Generation. They matured quickly, married and started families young, climbed out of the depths of worldwide destruction by striving for and achieving a comfortable life. No generation since has suffered as deeply nor had the need to rebuild a shattered world. Neither the Vietnam War nor the worst post-World War II economic period, the recession of the early 1980s, compare.
Robust economic conditions coupled with a baby boom created the circumstances in which companies could offer defined benefit pensions and government entitlements had a broad enough tax base to support them. However, between 1979 and 2011, private sector workers with defined benefit pension plans declined from 31% to 3%. When first started in 1940, Social Security had over 35 million workers paying into a system that had fewer than 250,000 recipients, a ratio of 159:1. By 1960 that ratio had dropped to a still sustainable 5:1. Since 1980 the ratio has been in the range of 3.3:1 but in 2010, as the first Baby Boomers began to retire, it dropped to 2.9:1 and appears to be continuing down.
During the period from 1945 to 1970, there were 50 months of recession and unemployment rates were as high as 7.5%. During the next 25 years, although there were only 42 months of recession, the lowest recessionary unemployment rate was higher than the highest one during the previous 25 years and peaked at 10.8%. At the same time the birthrate has fallen to historic lows.
Together, these two trends spell the end of any chance that Baby Boomers and beyond as generations will be able to retire. While you might find this upsetting, in reality it is the World War II and Korean War generation that is the anomaly. The vast majority of people in the 19th and early 20th centuries worked through their lives to support themselves.
As you plan to live intentionally, I encourage you to take this reality into account, especially if you do not have a government pension or are not diligent about saving and investing. The good news is that it is beneficial to keep working since you will have a longer, healthier life as a result. For you, the good life means living a life you have planned for yourself. Intentionality will replace the ideal of the golden years.
Question – What are your plans for retirement? Please respond below.