Legislative Update: June 2011

Legislative Update: June 2011

By Mike Watson, TSCL Legislative Assistant

“The best laid schemes of mice and men oft go awry.”  That was authored by 18th century poet Robert Burns, and served as the inspiration for the title of John Steinbeck’s book, Of Mice and Men, but aptly describes the economic situation facing today’s seniors.

For years, workers were told to rely on a combination of Social Security, workplace pensions and their personal retirement savings.  However, over the past 30 years or so the landscape of retirement savings has dramatically shifted.  Traditional workplace pensions have shifted to 401(k) plans while some have been eliminated altogether, and the recent financial and housing collapse left many households with dramatically less value in homes and retirement funds.  Partly as a result of these changes, many baby boomers and other future retirees are facing greater “risks” of not having enough to live on in their retirements.  According to the Center for Retirement Research, 51 percent of households are “at risk” of not being able to maintain their pre-retirement standard of living.

Generally, retirement planners say that to maintain their current standard of living, retirees need to replace 70 percent of their pre-retirement earnings.  However, with recent hits to personal savings and 401(k) balances, households are struggling with an erosion in the value of their retirement savings.  Also, while workers may plan to retire at a certain age, their retirement decisions are often subject to circumstances outside of their control.  A study conducted by McKinsey & Company found that roughly half of all workers who retired earlier than they planned cited health reasons or needing to care for a family member; the other half cited job loss.

If these aren’t challenges enough, The Senior Citizens League (TSCL) recently estimated that the Social Security benefits of the first wave of baby boomers have taken a hit from the economic downturn.  Due to two years of no cost-of-living-adjustments (COLAs), and lower than expected COLAs, as well as an unprecedented drop in wages over the past decade, retiring seniors’ benefits based on average earnings could be impacted as much as $40,000.  This impact is compounded when the losses in personal retirement savings and 401(k) plans are accounted for.

It is times like these when Social Security benefits are increasingly important, when “the best laid plans” are going awry for millions of seniors.  As Congress considers changes to the Social Security system, TSCL is urging Congress to make the need for adequate and stable benefits a priority.