Sunday, May 27, 2012

Halfway, Honed

Last week we published1 the results of an update of EBRI’s Retirement Readiness Rating from the Retirement Security Projection Model® (RSPM). That model, which has been modified over the years to take into account certain structural and market changes,2 projects that more than half (56 percent) of Boomers and Gen Xers will be able to retire with enough money to cover the cost of basic retirement needs as well as uninsured health care costs, including stochastic expenses from nursing home and home health care.3

On the other hand, that same model projects that about 44 percent won’t have “enough” to cover those expenses.
It’s worth noting that the trends are positive. Even after the toll of the 2008 financial crisis, the 2012 number of those at risk of running short is some 5−8 percentage points “better” than what was found in 2003. Moreover, the analysis is able to point to some important trends; eligibility for a workplace retirement plan remains a significant factor in reducing the risk of running short4, while the more recent broad-based advent of automatic enrollment plan designs makes it ever more likely that those eligible to participate—particularly lower-income workers—do so.

The research does point out that lower-income households are much more likely to be at risk for insufficient retirement income,5 even though basic retirement expenses are modeled as a function of the household’s expected retirement income. In fact, the 2012 baseline ratings for Early Boomers range from a projection that 87 percent of the simulated lifepaths for the lowest-income households are at risk in retirement to only 13 percent of retired highest-income households.
Obviously, the reality of more than  4 in 10  Americans not having sufficient post-retirement wealth is of concern, though I find that many are pleasantly surprised at how high a percentage is expected to have sufficient assets. Indeed, whether one draws comfort from that finding likely depends on your expectations (and perhaps on which side of that line you think you might find yourself post-retirement).

Regardless of those expectations—and whether you find the picture to be one of a glass half full or half empty—the data give us all something to work with, and to work toward.
- Nevin E. Adams, JD

1 EBRI Notes May 2012, “Retirement Income Adequacy for Boomers and Gen Xers: Evidence from the 2012 EBRI Retirement Security Projection Model,®” online here. http://www.ebri.org/publications/notes/index.cfm?fa=notesDisp&content_id=5062
2 The Retirement Security Projection Model® (RSPM) was developed in 2003, and in 2010 it was updated it to incorporate several significant changes, including the impacts of defined benefit plan freezes, automatic enrollment provisions for 401(k) plans and the recent crises in the financial and housing markets.  EBRI has recently updated RSPM for changes in financial and real estate market conditions as well as underlying demographic changes and changes in 401(k) participant behavior since January 1, 2010.
A household’s simulated lifepath in retirement is considered to be at risk in the baseline version of the model if its aggregate resources in retirement are not sufficient to meet aggregate minimum retirement expenditures, defined as a combination of deterministic expenses from the Consumer Expenditure Survey (as a function of income) as well as some health insurance and out‐of‐pocket health‐related expenses, plus stochastic expenses from nursing home and home health care (at least until the point such expenses are picked up by Medicaid). The resources in retirement are assumed to consist of Social Security (status quo benefits for the baseline version of the simulation); account balances from defined contribution plans; individual retirement accounts (IRAs) and/or cash balance plans; annuities or lump-sum distributions from defined benefit plans; and net housing equity (in the form of a lump‐sum distribution at the point that other financial resources are exhausted). This version of the model is constructed to simulate "basic" retirement income adequacy; however, alternative versions of the model allow similar analysis for replacement rates and other thresholds.
4 For an idea of just much of an impact plan eligibility makes, consider that, according to the simulation results, Gen Xers with no future years of eligibility would run short of money in retirement 60.7 percent of the time, whereas fewer than  1 in 5 (18.2 percent) of those with 20 or more years of future eligibility would run this risk.
5 In addition to underlining the importance of automatic enrollment for the lowest income, this also underlines the importance of Social Security as a post-retirement income source for this group.

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