Our Views: Grasshoppers, not saving ants

The serious gap continues to exist between workers’ goals of retirement and the assets they have to sustain themselves in old — or older — age.

A new survey found that about one in four American workers expects to put off retirement until at least age 70, far more than planned to work that long when the Employee Benefits Research Institute began its series of surveys.

Unfortunately for those planning to be on the job that long, the survey suggested that nearly half of workers end up leaving jobs unexpectedly, largely because of health issues or problems at work.

That distressing disconnect means that workers’ financial circumstances upon retirement are likely to be less than optimal. Only two-thirds of survey respondents say they, or their spouse, have saved any money for retirement. Financial assets, other than homes, are $25,000 or less for a majority of workers.

Yet only 57 percent of survey respondents said they are currently saving for retirement. Those that do often tap the popular 401(k)-type retirement accounts for other purposes, instead of leaving them untouched for the golden years. “Many Americans have more-immediate worries than saving for retirement,” Jack VanDerhei, EBRI’s research director and co-author of the report, told The Washington Post.

It’s not a happy picture, even as Social Security’s full benefits become available at slightly older ages than the traditional 65.

What ought to happen? A lot will depend on the ability and willingness of individuals to sign up for 401(k) accounts, as those are typically the most accessible retirement savings vehicles in the private sector.

Such a big social problem will require an attitude adjustment today, lest retirees suffer a severe lifestyle adjustment down the road.