Opinion: Does the U.S. have a retirement crisis?

At the end of a recent conference, the perennial question arose — once again — as to whether the United States faces a retirement crisis. 

I’ve never been wedded to the word “crisis,” but the Center’s National Retirement Risk Index(NRRI) suggests that about half of today’s working-age households are at risk of not being able to maintain their standard of living in retirement. While the NRRI depends on a number of specific assumptions, anything close to 50% at risk does seem like a serious problem to me. 

The conference participant bolstering the no-crisis view cited a survey prepared by the Society of Actuaries. That’s a good and respectable group, so never having given their survey the careful look it deserves, I took some time to read through the 143-page document. My starting position was if the SOA documented “no problem,” I would concede and start planning a lovely post-pandemic six months in Paris.

The 2019 online survey of about 1,061 preretirees and 1,255 retirees born between 1938 and 1973 was conducted by Greenwald & Associates in June 2019. This study was the 10th in a series documenting the retirement concerns and preparedness of older Americans. The authors acknowledge that the sample is not random, but rather consists of people willing to a take a 20-minute internet survey. They do reweight the results to match the age, sex, education, and household targets in the March 2019 Current Population Survey

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