Retirement Roundup in Washington: What Policymakers Are Saying

By Nevin Adams, EBRI

Nevin Adams

While the headlines out of our nation’s capital are driven by talk of the looming budget crisis, concerns about the sluggish economy, and the impending 2012 elections, discussions about retirement, retirement savings, and ways to improve retirement savings have been the order of the day here in Washington—and EBRI has been well-represented.

The Women’s Institute for a Secure Retirement (WISER) recently convened its Annual Women’s Retirement Symposium, with a focus on the future of retirement (broadly defined) and the specific implications for women (who live longer and are frequently paid less than men, and whose working careers often include family interruptions in pay and savings). EBRI data surfaced in a number of presentations throughout the event, including references to gender participation rates (see FastFact from EBRI #192 and 2011 RCS Fact Sheet 4), as well as differences in retirement confidence, and men’s and women’s responses to opportunities such as the catch-up contribution to 401(k)s and IRAs.

Among information shared by those at the conference:

• American women are marrying and having children later.

• The longevity gap with men has shrunk—from eight years to five years.

• There is no gender gap in access to retirement savings plans, or in participation in those plans.

• Women tend to save at higher rates than men, though men have larger average account balances.

• On average, Social Security provides half of women’s retirement income, but only a third of men’s.

• Only 11 percent of young women are confident of their ability to prepare/save for retirement.

• The top suggestion across all age demographics: provide motivation to learn about saving/investing for retirement, and make the topic easier to understand (41 percent of 20-somethings).

• Younger women were more likely to go to family/friends for investment help (those in their 40s were more likely to rely on a financial adviser)—but only 8 percent are actually talking about saving/investing with those friends/family.

• Most disabilities don’t occur at work.

• The leading cause of disability in the United States is arthritis.

• Health care costs impact certainty/predictability of benefit programs as well as individual savings rates.

All in all, significant change in the short term seems unlikely, with legislators and regulators hemmed in by budgetary constraints and concerns about the impact of change on private-sector hiring. However, today’s discussions could well set the stage for future change.

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