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Marketplace Morning Report
Commentary

Retirement — election no-show

Helaine Olen Nov 2, 2012
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We’ve got just a few days before the presidential election, and we’ve heard a lot from both President Obama and Mitt Romney about what they’d do to shore up the middle class. But there is an equally pressing issue that neither candidate is talking about.

We’re on the verge of a retirement crisis in this country. It’s something pretty much everyone knows except, apparently, the two guys running for president. Pensions are rapidly becoming a thing of the past. And the private savings schemes that have taken their place are not working out as planned. Most Americans have less than $100,000 in their 401(k)s. And that’s unlikely to change anytime soon since about half of us live paycheck to paycheck. We can hardly save for an emergency tomorrow, never mind something that’s going to happen 20 years from now.

In addition, stock market returns have been anemic for more than a decade, so even those few who have saved money are not seeing the gains financial advisors promised.

But the presidential candidates don’t talk about this. Instead, they discuss, as President Obama put it, “tweaking” Social Security, a program vital to seniors. The Census Bureau reports an additional 20 million Americans over 65 would live in poverty if not for their Social Security checks.

Politicians are fond of bashing Social Security as a major source of our budgetary woes. During the Bush Administration, Mitt Romney’s running mate Paul Ryan supported a proposal to turn a portion of our Social Security funds over to Wall Street – an idea that proved about as popular as paroling Charles Manson.

The current Social Security meme popular with deficit hawks calls for raising the age we can claim benefits. More Americans say they want to work longer, but no one has proven the jobs will be there for them to do that. Nor is it clear we will be capable of performing them. Studies show Baby Boomers are less healthy and suffering from more chronic ailments than their parents at the same age.

No wonder so many of us are scared, with surveys finding about 80 percent of us are petrified about how we will get by when our paid work lives end. And that number will likely go up every time someone tells us they plan to “tweak” Social Security.

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