Saturday, December 15, 2007
“Legends” of the Fall?
I went to see “I Am Legend” over the weekend. It’s the third cinematic version of the post-apocalyptic story that Richard Matheson wrote in 1954. This weekend’s reviews will (rightfully) be mostly about Will Smith—but Vincent Price was the first to take on the role in 1964 (in “The Last Man on Earth”), as did Charlton Heston in 1971’s “The Omega Man.” Each film, of course, is different—and I’m not just talking about the generous application of CGI. So different, in fact, that while I had read the book and seen the prior two film interpretations (Matheson influenced the 1964 version, but had nothing to do with “Omega Man”), I was distracted by things not happening the way they were “supposed” to happen in the story.
The “story” of this nation’s retirement has been similarly well-chronicled. For the very most part, the stories of late have been of the apocalyptic variety—and with some justification, IMHO. Last week, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) published the latest version, titled “Low Defined Contribution Plan Savings May Pose Challenges to Retirement Security, Especially for Many Low-Income Workers.”
Gee, ya think?
I don’t mean to disparage the work of the GAO in this regard. They’re not the first—and they certainly won’t be the last—to attempt to project the consequences of our nation’s current preparations for retirement. Most, including the GAO projections, paint a dire picture indeed. In fact—and this was the headline for most of the coverage of the report—GAO projected that, for workers born in 1990, nearly 37% would reach retirement with no savings at all!
Now, I have a daughter who was born in 1990 (she actually went to see “I Am Legend” with me), and while she surely is an exceptional child, I have a hard time imagining that 37% of the kids her age will come to retirement with no savings at all. Not that I see it as an impossibility. Let’s face it, we live in an era where about half of working Americans don’t even have the opportunity afforded by a workplace retirement savings program, and where, on average, a quarter of those who do, don’t take advantage of it.
Still, one could at least argue that today’s workers are still “counting” on Social Security, that some have (and too many presume they will have) the underpinnings of a defined benefit pension, that many espouse the notion of working past the confines of a traditional retirement age as a choice, rather than a necessity. If they’ve been slow to respond to the call, perhaps they’ve been “encouraged,” perhaps even deluded, by our unwillingness to be straight with them about the need and their growing responsibility.
The Boomers remain a relatively optimistic lot when it comes to retirement, despite a litany of surveys and projections (including those like the GAO report) that suggest many are merely whistling past the proverbial financial graveyard. Time will tell if the urgings of those Cassandra’s are an accurate prediction too long ignored; a fundamental misapplication of averages, standard deviations, and longevity tables—or some of both.
The next generation—for this is the Boomers’ brood, after all—may fare no better, it is true. But they’ll surely do it with less justification—and despite access to a growing array of tools and resources—than their parents.
- Nevin E. Adams, JD