Why 60% of Working Americans Have Nothing Saved for Retirement

Two items came across my desk this AM and, because I am - below the surface as a therapist and coach - a social worker and, proud of it, I needed to share them with you because of what lays heavy on my heart! 

Along with my other 'minority' statuses in life (over 50 "beyond my physical prime", not thin, not straight, not male), one I most get criticized for is my concern for middle and lower class folks.  You know, the rest of us, the MOST OF US.  Now you know I am saying this jokingly because I DO love myself, because of all these statuses (and more).  So don't worry about me, I'm doing great emotionally because I'm resilient.

Before I could even dive into my busy therapist and coach schedule this Monday morning, as beautiful outside as it is, I had to remind you something incredibly important to your emotional wellness.

It's the economy...sweetheart!  (notice I didn't call you stupid).

The first item was a video from Robert Reich.  I like Bob.  He's a smarty.  I believe he 'gets it' more than most.  He has street cred - he served in the administrations of Presidents Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and Bill Clinton. He was Secretary of Labor from 1993 to 1997. He was a member of President-elect Barack Obama's economic transition advisory board.  I would suggest you go to Bob's Facebook page here and watch some of his videos and let me know what you think in the comments below. 

And if you are like me, you were 'triggered', so to speak and not in a good way, but in a way that says "so how does the little guy like me fight this unfairness?"  A great place to start is to ask yourself: which leaders - nationally and locally - are most fighting for the policies that help the middle class?  I know, it's complicated, but we can get better at this I think.

The second item was a Market Watch article which will just depress you more.  It suggests the 'magic number' one must have to be able to retire these days is...are you ready: FIVE MILLION DOLLARS!  Yup.  You read that right.  

Now before you freak out more, just consider the source: Market Watch is probably media that is beholden to the advertisers on their site: yes, that is, the stock market!  So let's not take that figure too seriously.  I think there is a bit of fear operating here: scare us and then hit us with an ad 'to invest or perish' - HA!  

However...I don't know about you but I am very concerned how I will continue to maintain my quality of life as I move into my later years, given the ever increasing costs of things like health care and housing while our incomes don't keep pace!

Robert Reich's videos can help you understand that it's not you that is standing in the way of financial prosperity: it's the system.

Now blaming the system is not the whole answer.  You do have to do all you can to manage your own finances successfully, no matter what you have.  You have to do all you can - within reason - to spend less and save more.  This is good financial policy no matter how much you have.  

It also matters your age as you hear this unsettling news.  I know that, for me, the plan will be different at 58 as compared to my 19 year old niece and my 80 year old parents!  I know you can always do more to save more money and live more frugally.  I think my parents were wondering what I meant when I kept telling my 19 year old niece the other night to 'live BELOW her means' when they believe you live WITHIN your means.  Sadly, that's a promise we can't give today's young adults anymore. And it's definitely something I need to maximize given I am nearing retirement.

How quaint this old saying: Remember when Obama used to say "it used to be that if you played by the rules, worked hard and got an education, you could expect a good middle class life"?  This is no longer true.

But you are NOT totally at fault: you are not the only reason you have very little (or nothing) saved for retirement!  It's the result of other factors as well such as the change in the economy brought on by tech and globalization.  But it's also the fact that the robber barons (who have never been much challenged except for a blip in our history in the 1940's-50's when there were unions and greater income equality) are back, and with a vengeance!

I like to joke and say it might be 2019 but we really haven't changed much as humans, since the Dark Ages.  We're still all about competition and not enough about cooperation.  We're still too much about power over and ego.  We're still too much about dominance over mutuality.  We're still about us versus them and survival of the fittest and if you are smart, take advantage of those who aren't as smart.  All of these to our peril as a race.

So why would I post this depressing information?  Because the first step in emotional wellness is being HONEST about where we are.  Let's stop the denial and start to face what truly needs to change for you to have a better life financially: the system.  

I encourage you to get more involved in your community politics, particularly the coming 2020 presidential election.  One thing social workers are great at is helping clients understand that it's NOT just about your thoughts and feelings, it's also about your environment.  The environments you live and work in are incredibly influential.  

I believe that sometimes changing a thought is just an 'opiate for the masses', as in you are probably being lulled to sleep so you don't notice what else is happening AROUND you that is hurting you.

So what will you do this week to act on what you just learned?  Please tell us in the comments below.