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70 is the new 60 — and that’s not good news

Whatever little bit you can sock away will help you later in life. (iStock)

Have you heard the expression 60 is the new 40?

The premise is that we are living longer and are much healthier. And as a result, middle age comes later.

Well, here’s a new one. When it comes to retirement, 70 is the new 60.  And that’s not such good news.

Nearly a quarter of American workers expect that they will have to work beyond age 70, according to a new survey by Willis Towers Watson. Also a third of those surveyed expect that they will retire later than they had planned.

It goes back to the fact that we are not saving for retirement, and apparently, most of us know it. For many, it just may be too late. As a result they are faced with working longer or accepting a reduced lifestyle in retirement.

A few things are crystal clear from the latest survey.

First, Americans are still adjusting to the fact that pensions are, for the most part, gone.  Many of today’s Baby Boomers and most of the next generations have to look out for themselves when it comes to retirement. That means using a do-it-yourself company 401(k) or an Individual Retirement Account.

Second, Americans, so far, have not been up to that challenge. Surveys show a stunningly high percentage of us have saved nearly nothing for retirement.

And third, more of us will be forced to take Social Security early, at age 62, locking in lower benefits for life. That’s not a good thing. Two-thirds of us take Social Security at 62, and the average monthly payment is only $1,340. Waiting till 66 would increase your benefits by 30 percent. But the reality is most of us can’t wait.

Perhaps the biggest potential problem is that many people say they will work until 70, but few do, even when they want to. Reasons include poor health, forced layoffs or retirement and having to take care of a spouse or parent.

Some key findings from the Willis Towers Watson Survey.

  • Fears of a reduced standard of living in retirement are common.
  • One in four people surveyed expect to work into their 70s, up five percentage points since 2005.
  • Workers who say they plan to work into their 70s are more stressed, less healthy and more likely to feel stuck in their jobs. Forty percent of employees expecting to retire after age 70 have high or above-average stress levels, compared with 30 percent of those expecting to retire at 65.
  • Over the past two decades, the percentage of U.S. men age 65 and older who are working has grown from 15 percent to 22 percent.
  • Almost 8 in 10 workers will rely on their employer retirement plan as the primary way they save for retirement.

“Clearly there was a surprise in terms of the degree of self-identified poor health within the portion of work force that was predisposed to work longer,” says Shane Bartling, senior consultant at Willis Towers Watson. “That was an important fact in terms of how well the current system is working. We’re not doing a good enough job in helping the most vulnerable portion of the workforce prepare well for retirement. That has ramifications for this portion of workforce with few options available to address their financial needs in the future.”

The anti-retirement plan: Working 9-to-5 past 65

Workers are again looking to their employers for help. Employers can help with more support and help in 401(k) plans and also increasing auto-enrollment, Bartling says. He says companies are starting to recognize that they need to help employees make money decisions, such as whether a Roth IRA or a Health Savings Account makes sense for them.

Employers need to offer complete financial help, not just for retirement, he says. For example, if companies help employees make better life-stage decisions, including about buying a house or a car, it would also improve their ability to save for the long term.

Question of the Week

This new Willis Towers Watson survey says a quarter of us plan to retire at 70 or older. That number is rising. How old do you expect to be when you finally retire? And tell me why. Send comments to rodney.brooks@washpost.com. Please include your name, city and state. In the subject line put “Retire at 70.”

My most recent retirement column: Good references are key to finding a financial adviser

Michelle Singletary’s last column: To prosper, create a financial rulebook

Write Brooks at The Washington Post, 1301 K St. NW, Washington, D.C., 20071, or rodney.brooks@washpost.com. On Twitter @Perfiguy. Personal responses may not be possible, and comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer’s name, unless otherwise requested. To read more, go
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