Retirement

Older Americans are falling short financially

June 11, 2013 at 9:30 AM ET

The golden years aren’t turning out to be that golden for many current seniors and retirees, according to two reports that shed light on which older Americans are most likely to be economically vulnerable.

A new report from the Economic Policy Institute finds that black, Hispanic or female seniors, or people 80 and older are more likely to face economic woes than other older Americans.

“Public programs like Social Security and Medicare do a fairly decent job of keeping people out of absolute deprivation – absolute poverty – but there’s still a huge swath of the elderly that are living pretty close to the line,” said David Cooper, an economic analyst with the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal-leaning think tank, and co-author of the report.

Another report, released Monday by Interest.com, finds that households headed by people who are 65 or older are bringing in median income of $35,107 a year, just 57 percent of the median income of households headed by 45- to 64-year-olds.

The Interest.com analysis is based on 2011 Census Bureau data that defines income broadly to include earnings, Social Security payments, pensions, retirement plan income, interest and even welfare payments.

The results of both studies suggest that some seniors may be falling short of meeting their day-to-day expenses because they aren’t bringing in enough money and have few options for increasing their wealth at that point in life.

But Mike Sante, managing editor of Interest.com, said his site’s data also should serve as a wake-up call for people who are currently working. Those younger Americans could find themselves in an even more precarious position when they get older, because they are much less likely than current retirees to get a regular pension check.

That means that, in addition to Social Security, they will likely have to cover the cost of retirement largely on their own, though 401(k) plans and other similar programs that can take decades to accumulate.

“You have to replace that pension with savings,” Sante said.

To some researchers, the fact that many current seniors are receiving pensions and Social Security benefits puts them in a much better economic position than previous generations of retirees.

“I think, overall, seniors are doing pretty well,” said Richard W. Johnson, director of the program on retirement policy at The Urban Institute, a think tank.

He noted that many seniors actually weathered the recession better than their younger counterparts, who have struggled with job losses, the housing crisis and other economic woes. That has left many younger Americans in a more vulnerable economic position, he said.

Still, Johnson noted that many seniors will likely struggle to pay for long-term health care expenses, and he said some seniors, including blacks and Hispanics, have not been able to accumulate as much wealth for retirement.

The Economic Policy Institute report found that the majority of Hispanics and African-Americans who are 65 and older were “economically vulnerable,” which they defined as having family income that is less than two times the threshold set by the government’s supplemental poverty measure.

This relatively new gauge of poverty takes a more detailed view of people’s financial situation to include payments such as food stamps as well as costs such as health care.

The EPI report, which was based on government data from 2009 to 2011, also found that Americans who are 80 and older were more likely to be considered economically vulnerable, by their measure, than those who are 65 to 79 years old. Cooper said that’s partly because the analysis looked at family income, and many people who are 80 and older have lost a spouse and are living alone.

Older women also were at higher risk for being economically vulnerable than their male counterparts. That’s one area that experts say could change in the coming years, since more women now work and will therefore retire with their own Social Security and investment benefits.

Related:

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Generation X now most worried about retirement, survey finds

The latest plan to 'fix' Social Security has plenty of critics

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