Sunday, March 11, 2012

“Managing” Expectations

On March 13,(1) the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) and Mathew Greenwald & Associates, Inc., will unveil the 22nd annual Retirement Confidence Survey (RCS)—the longest-running annual retirement survey of its kind in the nation. Indeed, the RCS is unique in offering a perspective on retirement that is now as long as the retirement of those living to average life expectancy at 65.

Consider that back in 1996, the sixth annual RCS found that 24 percent of retirees were not confident that they would have enough money to live comfortably throughout their retirement years, and more than 1 in 5 said their lifestyles were worse than when they first retired (with nearly 1 in 10 calling them "a lot worse"). The report noted that “[t]wo-thirds of those working then predicted they would work after they ‘retire,’ and nearly 40 percent of those say they think they'll need to for financial reasons, to pay the bills and make ends meet.”

Five years later, the 2001 RCS noted that the percentage of individuals who say they have personally saved for retirement decreased from 75 percent in 2000 to 71 percent, though that was still better than the 59 percent cited in 1998. At the time, the RCS noted that the “changes in individual behavior regarding retirement savings may in part be attributed to recent declines in consumer confidence, employment, the economy, and the equity markets.”

While a press release about the 2006 RCS stated that “RCS data over the past 12 years continue to show that retirement confidence overall among workers does not seem to be affected by either stock market performance or varying economic conditions,” subsequent events—notably the 2008 financial crisis—did seem to undermine confidence levels.

The 2010 RCS acknowledged that Americans’ confidence in their ability to afford a comfortable retirement had plunged to a new low at the same time that the recent declines in other retirement confidence indicators appeared to be “stabilizing.” And yet, just one year later, the 2011 RCS cautioned, “Instead of making fundamental adjustments to their spending and saving patterns in response to the decline in confidence, workers continue to change their expectations ”.

How we view—and anticipate—retirement can have a dramatic impact on that reality, and the RCS provides valuable insights into the perspectives of those heading toward, and those already dealing with, the realities of retirement.

What matters, of course, isn’t one’s confidence about having a financially secure retirement. What matters is having taken the time and energy to actually do something about it.

Nevin E. Adams, JD


(1) Full results of the 2012 RCS will be available online at www.ebri.org the morning of Tuesday, March 13.

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