Political Focus: The retirement crisis and social security


Melissa Deatsch

What’s the issue? 

As many now spend their workdays dreaming about retirement, too many Americans lack a financial plan that will get them there.  Workers’ confidence in their future ability to retire is plateauing after making a post financial crisis comeback.  

Many surveys have been conducted that support the idea that the U.S. is in the midst of a retirement crisis.  There are currently 40 million senior citizens but that number is expected to reach 89 million by 2050.  

Experts say that back in 1960, for every one person retired there were more than five people working and giving a portion of their paycheck to social security.  Now, that ratio has gone down to less than three workers per retired person.   

It doesn’t help that, according to a recently released survey by the Employee Benefit Research Institute, 30 percent of workers aren’t saving for retirement at all.  Of the 70 percent that do have some money saved, 25 percent have less than $1,000 in savings. 

Calculating how much you’ll need for retirement is dependent on a lot of variables, most notably your expected cost of living, however, over half of workers have admitted to having no idea how much they need to save for retirement.  

For those who have, many are worried they will have to delay retirement passed the current retirement age of 67.   These lack of savings leave American retirees very dependent on their social security checks. 

Social security works like this: As you work you put money in so that when you retire you can take money out.  The social security check you receive when you become eligible is dependent on how much you earned while you were working.  

Research shows that it won’t be able continue the same way it has been.  The presidential candidates differ on how to tackle that issue. 


What are the sides?

At the center of this debate are the candidates’ plans for social security reform.  If Americans retire without enough in savings, they could be relying almost entirely on their social security check to live. 

While Democratic candidates are calling for expansion, Republicans want privatization of the program.  Though social security reform cannot be found on any of the Republican candidates’ campaign sites, suggesting it’s not a priority. 

Hillary Clinton wants to increase funding for social security and increase benefits by asking for the wealthiest Americans to pay more.  Bernie Sanders feels the same and both plan to introduce legislation that eliminates the Social Security cap. Currently, all wages are taxed 12.4 percent up to $118,500.   

Each of the Republican candidates takes a different position regarding social security.  Donald Trump has said he will make no changes to social security.  

Ted Cruz has suggested an across-the- board reduction of benefits to younger workers.  In addition, he supports raising the retirement age and allowing workers to invest a portion of their paycheck into a private account.  

John Kasich has suggested a reduction in benefits for high-income workers while leaving benefits where they are for those retirees who depend on it.  Kasich has not supported the retirement age being raised.  


Why should you care? 

It seems like it’s too far away to care, but as we prepare to enter the real world, it’s time to begin educating ourselves on real world topics.  Lack of preparation too often comes from lack of education.  

If you think you’ll be fine to push back your retirement as long as you need, you need to account for the unpredictable.  Unexpected illnesses, family member needs and many other things often require people to retire earlier than they expected.  

As you enter the real world and begin a full-time job, consider your options for retirement plans.   Those with retirement plans from work are far more likely to have an idea of what they’ll need to retire comfortably.