ARROYO GRANDE, Calif. – Some days I get the feeling Wall Street, Washington and Corporate America all think we're hopeless idiots.
Yes, our savings rate has dropped from about 10% in the early 1980s into negative territory today. But so what? Stop acting like scolding parents, calling us names. We're not stupid. We know the game, and you're a bad example.
Let's all go yell out our windows: "Get off our backs with your obsessive drumbeat about savings. Why should we care about saving for retirement? Washington's out of control, killing our future anyway. Live for today!" Yell it loud. Tell 'em you're mad as hell!
What's making me mad as hell? I've read lots of fear-generating studies the last year or so. All with the same drumbeat: "You ain't saving enough! You're in deep trouble! You can't retire. You gotta save lots more!"
Every study trumpets pretty much the same facts: Only 20% to 35% are saving enough. That means 65% to 80% of Americans are not saving enough. Some are, most aren't and, on balance, America's saving rate is negative.
Who put these scary numbers together? Respected folks like Prudential, Guardian, All-State, National, Putnam, Merrill Lynch (MER) and others. But numbers aren't the real problem. These folks expose a real negative attitude toward investors, workers and consumers, especially the 65% to 80% who aren't saving enough to satisfy how these know-it-all financial hotshots define "enough for retirement."
Notice the threatening put-downs. Their studies use labels like "clueless," and "paralyzed" and "contradictory and split" and "too dependent." Or you're just a "survivor" and you're going to be "uncomfortable" in retirement.
Even the new study from the independent Employee Benefit Research Institute beats the drum. EBRI just published its 16th annual Retirement Confidence Survey titled "Will more of us work forever?"
Obviously a rhetorical question, answered like a scolding parent: "Many American workers are not ready to undertake the task of financial planning for their own retirement and face the prospect of having to work far longer than they expect."
Translation: "Warning, you must work till you die!" An indictment of America's broken retirement savings. And yet they're still blaming individuals for systemic failures of government policy and financial-industry greed. Reminds me of that famous "In Search of Excellence" conclusion that 85% of all organizational failures are systemic, not the individuals. Listen to facts as EBRI restates them:
Worker confidence levels unrealistic. The study says confidence is too high: 24% say they're "very confident" about financial security and 44% are "somewhat confident." However, 22% of the "very confident" aren't currently saving for retirement, 39% have less than $50,000 in savings and 37% haven't even calculated what they need in retirement. Too little saved. Aside from their residence and any defined-benefit plans, 52% of workers have less than $50,000 saved for retirement. Worse yet, 75% of the others have less than $10,000. Unrealistic income expectations. Although employer retirement-benefit plans are on the decline, 61% of workers still expect retirement income from one — yet only 40% have them. There's also a gap in employer health insurance, where benefits are also declining. Unrealistic retirement costs of living. A 59% majority say they expect their standard of living to be the same or better in retirement than at work. However, 50% think they can live comfortably on 70% of their preretirement income as coast inflate. Unrealistic about working. Two-third of Americans (67%) plan on working in retirement. But the reality is, only 27% of us are actually working in retirement.
But so what? Get off our backs! We all know the retirement system is broken. That's why savings are below zero. But it's not the people. Wake up, it's the system. We need a radical policy shift.
Work's the key: Work's good for the soul! Frame a new policy to make absolutely certain nobody ever retires. Seriously, make "Work Forever" America's new domestic policy. Forget about pushing all those ineffectual retirement savings plans. Everybody knows they're not working anyway. Just read the EBRI study!
"Work Forever?" Sound crazy? Nope, it's already happening! And it's about time America faces reality. Remember the facts: Zero savings rate, and as high as 80% not saving enough. If those trends continue, soon nobody will be able to retire anyway, we'll all be forced to "Work Forever!"
Our future's already being spent and mortgaged and wasted by an out-of-control bunch of bubble-heads in Washington, Wall Street and Corporate America. So we're "voting" with what dollars we have left. Having fun today! Spending every last dime we make. Leaving nothing to save. Driven by attitudes learned from the bad examples of our out-of-control "scolding parents."
Americans know exactly what they're doing. They see through the "you're-not-saving-enough" mantras of the self-interested hucksters of Wall Street, Corporate America and Washington. We see how this new "Work Forever" policy is evolving by default anyway, thanks to Washington insiders backed by special interest lobbyists' money from Wall Street and Corporate America.
"Work Forever," the ultimate win-win policy
Yes, we are mad as hell. But we're also ignoring the bubble-heads. Instead of yelling out the window, we're rapidly moving to critical mass, primed to explode in a huge rebellion. If you think the recent immigration and labor protests were big, wait till America's savings rate drops further below zero while loser CEOs keep getting $100 million pay-offs. This scenario is fueling a massive grass-roots revolution.
But there is a plus side to a national "Work Forever" policy. First, get every American working, doing what they love, enjoying the moment, living in what motivational gurus call the "Eternal-Now!" Then we all prosper! Remember the great conclusions of the "Millionaire-Next-Door" and "The Millionaire Mind:" They tell us that when someone is doing what they love, they're working at peak efficiency, have the highest productivity, and will make the most money!
So live it up, folks! Work forever, doing what you love! You win, America wins!
Copyright (c) 2006 MarketWatch, Inc.