The Retirement Crisis that Probably Isn’t

Elizabeth Warren and many of the other people recklessly seeking to expand Social Security, which is already on an unsustainable course, justify their crusade by claiming that America is facing a retirement crisis. Millions of older Americans, they say, cannot afford to retire: Social Security doesn’t pay enough and they haven’t saved sufficiently on their own.

“It’s a scary vision,” says Washington Post columnist Robert Samuelson, “But is it likely? Probably not.” Samuelson gives a good overview of the evidence, including that most elderly Americans own homes, have retirement vehicles such as 401(k) accounts with a median value of $100,000, and have expenses that are generally far lower than young Americans. He also points out:

Studies aside, there’s little real-world evidence of pervasive under-saving. Older Americans feel better about their finances than any other age group, report surveys by NORC at the University of Chicago. In 2012, 80 percent of those 65 and over were “satisfied” or “more or less satisfied” with their financial situation compared with only 67 percent of those aged 50 to 64. Other age groups also lagged; comparable results date to the 1970s.

I would add one more point. If some Americans have saved too little for retirement, one major reason is that Social Security took a big chunk of their income during their working years. If there is a retirement crisis, Social Security isn’t the cure — it’s part of the cause.