Working Longer: The Solution to the Retirement Income Challenge

Brookings Institution Press
Free sample

Daily headlines warn American workers that their retirement years may be far from golden. The main components of the retirement income system—Social Security and employer-provided pensions and health insurance—are in decline while the amount of income needed for a comfortable retirement continues to rise.

In Working Longer, Alicia Munnell and Steven Sass suggest a simple solution to this problem: postponing retirement by two to four years. By following their advice, the average worker retiring in 2030 can be as well off as today's retirees. Implementing this solution on a national scale, however, may not be simple.

Working Longer investigates the prospects for moving the average retirement age from 63, the current figure, to 66. Munnell and Sass ask whether future generations will be healthy enough to work beyond the current retirement age and whether older men and women want to work. They examine companies' incentives to employ older works and ask what government can do to promote continued participation in the workforce. Finally, they consider the challenge of ensuring a secure retirement for low-wage workers and those who are unable to continue to work.

The retirement system faces very real challenges. But together, workers, employers, and the government can keep this vital piece of the American dream alive.

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About the author

Alicia H. Munnell is the Peter F. Drucker Professor of Management Sciences, Carroll School of Management, and director of the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College. She has served as assistant secretary of the Treasury for economic policy (1993–1995) and as a member of the President's Council of Economic Advisers (1995–97). She was also cofounder and first president of the National Academy of Social Insurance. Munnell has written or edited numerous books, including Coming up Short: The Challenge of 401(k) Plans, with Annika Sundén (Brookings, 2004).

Steven A. Sass is associate director of the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College. He was previously an economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston and taught at Rutgers and Brandeis. His books include The Promise of Private Pensions: The First Hundred Years (Harvard, 1997), Social Security and the Stock Market: How the Pursuit of Market Magic Shapes the System, with Alicia H. Munnell (Upjohn Institute, 2006), and The Social Security Fix-It Book, with Alicia H. Munnell and Andrew Eschtruth (Center for Retirement Research, 2007).

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Additional Information

Publisher
Brookings Institution Press
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Published on
Oct 1, 2009
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Pages
207
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ISBN
9780815701453
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Language
English
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Genres
Business & Economics / Consumer Behavior
Business & Economics / Government & Business
Business & Economics / Personal Finance / Retirement Planning
Political Science / Public Policy / Economic Policy
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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As the baby boom begins to withdraw from the labor force, ensuring a secure retirement income becomes an increasingly important issue, the number of people over age 65 is expected to double by 2030. That trend will continue, accompanied by worries about stock market volatility, corporate malfeasance, a rapidly changing economy, and the viability of Social Security. In Coming Up Short, two experts on retirement policy analyze 401(k) plans, the fastest-growing type of employer-sponsored pensions and a vital source of retirement income for the American middle class. Alicia Munnell and Annika Sunden chronicle the development of 401(k) plans, now the dominant form of private pensions. In accessible language, they explain how such plans work and discuss their popularity. For employees, these plans are appealing becuase they have more control over their own retirement funds, and the plans are portable. For employers, the plans are generally less costly than defined benefit plans. Despite those advantages, there are some significant downsides to 401(k) plans. These plans shift all the risk and responsibility to employees, who must decide whether to join, how much to contribute, how to invest, whether to "cash out" when changing jobs, and how to manage their nest egg in retirement. These are difficult decisions, and while in theory 401(k)s could be an effective savings vehicle for retirement, in practice many people make mistakes at every step along the way. Com ing Up Short discusses why these mistakes are made and proposes various reforms to ensure that the aging population will have adequate retirement income. Comprehensive and up-to-date, Coming Up Short is an essential resource on 401(k) plans for financial service professionals, policymakers, academics, and individuals planning for their own retirement.
The United States faces a serious retirement challenge. Many of today's workers will lack the resources to retire at traditional ages and maintain their standard of living in retirement. Solving the problem is a major challenge in today's environment in which risk and responsibility have shifted from government and employers to individuals. For this reason, Charles D. Ellis, Alicia H. Munnell, and Andrew D. Eschtruth have written this concise guide for anyone concerned about their own - and the nation's - retirement security. Falling Short is grounded in sound research yet written in a highly accessible style. The authors provide a vivid picture of the retirement crisis in America. They offer the necessary context for understanding the nature and size of the retirement income shortfall, which is caused by both increasing income needs-due to longer lifespans and rising health costs-and decreasing support from Social Security and employer-sponsored pension plans. The solutions are to work longer and save more by building on the existing retirement system. To work longer, individuals should plan to stay in the labor force until age 70 if possible. To save more, policymakers should shore up Social Security's long-term finances; make all 401(k) plans fully automatic, with workers allowed to opt out; and ensure that everyone has access to a retirement savings plan. Individuals should also recognize that their house is a source of saving, which they can tap in retirement through downsizing or a reverse mortgage.
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