Vice President Dick Cheney urged Americans Thursday to do a better job of saving and challenged policymakers to strengthen pensions and fix Social Security to help people in their golden years.

"The American dream begins with saving money and that should begin on the very first day of work," Cheney told a conference here exploring how to encourage people to boost savings and be better prepared for retirement.

Too often, workers are living paycheck to paycheck and are not saving sufficiently, Cheney said.

Last year, Americans' personal savings rate dropped to its lowest point since the Great Depression. The dismal state of savings comes as a big wave of baby boomers will soon start retiring.

That wave of retirees will eventually put massive strains on government resources as people draw on Social Security and Medicare benefits, Cheney said. Fewer workers, meanwhile, can be counted on to help bankroll the retirement program.

Cheney renewed President Bush's call in his State of the Union address for the creation of a bipartisan commission to study the impact of retiring baby boomers on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

The president's modest proposal came after his ambitious plans to revamp Social Security stalled last year amid balking from both Democrats and Republicans.

"Americans have a right to expect more out of nation's leaders" and to tackle thorny matters such as Social Security and pension reforms, Cheney said.

The vice president also called on Congress to complete action on legislation that would strengthen the nation's troubled pension system.

Lawmakers in the House and Senate have passed separate versions of pension bills, and have yet to iron out the differences.

The bills are aimed at shoring up traditional, employer-based defined benefit pension plans, which pay retirees a fixed amount based on salary and years of service. Millions of Americans are counting on such pension plans to fund their retirement.

These defined-benefit pension plans are now underfunded by an estimated $450 billion. To fix this, legislation would tighten pension-funding rules for companies.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, who also spoke at the conference, said he would like to see the pension legislation wrapped up before Congress takes a spring recess, currently slated for April 10-21.

Another speaker, former Commerce Secretary Don Evans, said that a poll conducted for the lobby group found that nearly three out of five Americans between the ages of 35 and 49 are saving less than $10,000 a year. "For most, this will prove too little to support a comfortable middle-class retirement," said Evans, who is now chief of the Financial Services Forum.

The poll also found that nearly a third of Americans saved nothing for retirement last year.