An increasing number of Americans are worried about their retirement. In fact, a recent Gallup poll finds retirement is the top financial worry in this country. The poll found that 58% of adults are "very/moderately worried" about maintaining their current lifestyle after they stop working. The number jumps to 77% among 30 to 49-year-olds.
There's good reason to worry, says Michael Pento, senior economist at EuroPacific Capital. "Retirement is on life support, if not indeed dead as we know it today," he tells Aaron Task in the accompanying interview.
"Where is the income going to come from to sustain a viable retirement?" Pento asks. The problem, as he sees it, is simple -- income and asset values have plateaued over the last decade, while pension and entitlement programs are underfunded.
Pento recently penned a piece called "The Extinction of Retirement," detailing the financial problems facing Americans on a fixed income.
"In the past many retirees could count on accumulated stock market wealth to help fund retirement. Not so much anymore. As of this writing, the S&P 500 is now no higher than it was in January of 1999. For over 12 years the major averages have gone nowhere in nominal terms and have declined significantly in real (inflation adjusted) terms. The dreams of becoming rich from investments have crashed along with Pets.com and Bernie Madoff. Then there is always the supposedly safest asset of all -- a retiree's home.
Despite a misguided faith that real estate prices could never fall, they have done just that … with a vengeance. According to S&P/Case-Shiller, the National Home Price Index has declined some 30% to levels not seen since the middle of 2002. And prices are still falling, with the rate of decline accelerating. The National Index dropped 4.2% in Q1 of 2011, after dropping 3.6% during Q4 2010. This means that only those retirees who have owned their homes for at least 10 years have any hope of selling at a profit. Ownership of significantly longer periods may be needed to have built up significant equity.
That leaves public and private pension plans. But here again there are serious issues. Let's just look at state public pension shortfalls. According to the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, "States report that their public-employee pensions are underfunded by a total of $438 billion, but a more accurate accounting demonstrates that they are actually underfunded by over $3 trillion. The accounting methods that states currently use to measure their liabilities assumes plans can earn high investment returns without risk." Huge returns without risk? Bond yields are the lowest they have been in nearly a century! What world are these states living in? With few options, the states will undoubtedly look to the Federal government (taxpayers) for a bailout. Failing that, cuts are inevitable."
He continues by saying "Americans are have negligible savings, the real estate market is still in secular decline, stock prices are in a decade's long morass, real incomes are falling, public pension plans are insolvent and our entitlement programs are bankrupt."
Pento believes these issues could be resolved if the government takes the right steps. What might those be? He recommends lowering taxes, reducing inflation and balancing the budget as a means to increase the value of the dollar. If the dollar had more purchasing power and interest rates were higher, retirees would be able to live off their fixed income, he says.
Be sure to watch the video for more details. After you do, share your thoughts with us in the comment section below.
- S&P 500
- entitlement programs
- Bernie Madoff
- fixed income
- interest rates
- purchasing power
- Gallup poll
- stock market wealth