My friend Atrios is right.
We need an across the board increase in Social Security retirement benefits of 20% or more. We need it to happen right now, even if that means raising taxes on high incomes or removing the salary cap in Social Security taxes.
Over the past few decades, employees fortunate enough to have employer-based retirement benefits have been shifted from defined benefit plans to defined contribution plans. We are now seeing the results of that grand experiment, and they are frightening. Recent and near-retirees, the first major cohort of the 401(k) era, do not have nearly enough in retirement savings to even come close to maintaining their current lifestyles.
Frankly, that’s an optimistic way of putting it. Let me be alarmist for a moment, because the fact is the numbers are truly alarming. We should be worried that large numbers of people nearing retirement will be unable to keep their homes or continue to pay their rent.
According to the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, the median household retirement account balance in 2010 for workers between the ages of 55-64 was just $120,000. For people expecting to retire at around age 65, and to live for another 15 years or more, this will provide for only a trivial supplement to Social Security benefits.
And that’s for people who actually have a retirement account of some kind. A third of households do not. For these people, their sole retirement income, aside from potential aid from friends and family, comes from Social Security, for which the current average monthly benefit is $1,230.
Now I want to share what I've been going through, resulting in my creative block for about the last month...as well as teetering around with depression.
I realized there's only a few more years I can live at the level which I am now, and believe me, it's just at bare bones. Having worked solidly for the last few years of my life, I did put away a second batch of funds for retirement. My first batch was gobbled up with dot.com crashing. So my 401-K is about half as big as it should have been.
This month I did try cutting back a bit more, by trying to bring the electric bill back down to November level, and closing off the coldest room in the house, the bedroom. That means I've slept on the hide-a-bed in the living room for the last month. It's really pretty comfortable, but it isn't that great.
Anyway, I shared my anxieties with my family and friends. And one friend gave me a great way to approach this major change that is inevitable. This is assuming I live longer than 2 more years, and if I don't make that assumption then I could really get depressed. We all must plan a future of some kind. Just what to wear today, or what to have for lunch.
I now have a team approach, calling it "Team Grandmama" made up of family members and a few close friends. They know my financial limitations. We are all trying to find answers. They are my coaches and advisers. I need to do most of the leg work, but if they have access to information, they send it along.
My family isn't set up to just have me move into the spare bedroom with one of my sons. I won't describe their lifestyles, but at this point it's not feasible...no spare bedrooms.
So when my 401-K runs out, and I'm looking at nothing but the Social Insecurity, I will definitely need some other housing arrangement. How soon can I apply for low-cost housing, and what's available?
I just talked on the phone to a woman at the Council on Aging, and she's sending me a packet of information and application for some housing.
So this is keeping my anxiety at a minimum. And hopefully my sons are feeling a little less like I'm asking for them to take over my care. They are men, after all. Well, that's just because there really is a care-giving attitude that most women have, and it doesn't seem to come through for men as much. My sons love me, but don't want to do more than necessary in my care. And I would certainly balk if they were to want to make decisions for me at this stage. I am still in my right mind, and can drive around pretty safely.
Tomorrow I'm going to a great program about setting up Health Care whatever...someone to help make decisions if I can't. After I take it, I'll let you know what I learn.