Meet a boomer with no retirement savings — and no regrets

an older teacher teaching a class of high schoolers

Nancy (not pictured) loves working in education, but has no savings.skynesher/Getty Images

  • Nancy, 72, has no retirement savings and relies on her salary and Social Security.

  • She’s looking into low-income housing and wishes the US had a better social safety net.

  • Increasingly, lower-income older Americans face retirement with insufficient savings.

Nancy, 72, loves her life. She loves living in the Seattle area, and is happy to log in remotely to her job in education after years of working as a teacher.

“I’ve had a real happy life, and I’m a happy person,” said Nancy, whose last name is known to Business Insider, but withheld over privacy concerns.

She’s “pretty healthy” and feels like a young 72. But there’s just one catch: Nancy has no savings for retirement.

“That’s kind of a scary situation,” she said. She said she had a 401(k) in the early 2000s but withdrew the money from it to cover a new business venture. Right now, she said she’s subsisting on her salary and Social Security.

“It’s not fun to look ahead at my older years wondering ‘what the heck am I going to do?'” Nancy said.

More older Americans are heading toward retirement with little to no savings, and the situation is increasingly income-stratified. It’s creating haves and have-nots of retirees, wherein higher-earning — or luckier — Americans can sit back and enjoy their later years. For others, it means working until they can’t anymore.

“You think of all the ways someone my age could accumulate something for retirement. And I don’t fall into any of those buckets,” Nancy said.

Over time, the ability to save for retirement has become increasingly reserved for higher-earning Americans. An AARP survey found that just around a fifth of American adults 50 and older have no retirement savings. According to the Survey of Consumer Finances, just 57% of Americans ages 55 to 64 have a retirement account, and only 51% of those 65 to 74 have an account.

At the same time, there’s a growing income disparity between retirement savings. A 2023 analysis from the Government Accountability Office found that, since 2007, the percentage of lower-income households that have a retirement balance has fallen from 21% to 10%. And, except for the richest Americans, retirement balances didn’t have any “detectable differences” during that same period — suggesting that only the highest-earning retirees were saving up more. Pensions — which provide monthly payouts to retirees — are still available for some lower-earning Americans, like educators, although even those benefits are coming up against funding crises.

Indeed, many Americans are living on paltry post-work incomes, of $1,000 a month in Social Security, with some having to return to work entirely or just planning on working until they can’t anymore.

Nancy — who doesn’t have children, a spouse, family knowledge and motivation for investing, or generational wealth — feels this acutely.

“My parents weren’t rich, so I didn’t inherit anything. So not having any real estate assets, inheritance family money, is a real handicap for someone as they grow older,” she said.

Concerns about the future — but no regrets

Despite her current situation, Nancy is still content with how she lived her life. If she had to go back and do it all again, she’d probably try to save more for retirement. But she said it would’ve been “terrible” to spend her life working at a hard, high-pressure job that she didn’t enjoy, spending her days looking forward to retirement.

“The quality of life and how I spend my life is much more important to me than saving money for some future date. So it’s a values decision as well,” Nancy said. “I’d rather be happy in what I do every single minute of every single day, including what I do for work, even if I have to sacrifice making a lot of money.”

Nancy lives in a 55-and-up retirement community. She said that her fellow residents have assets, kids, and things to fall back on. To her, the key to making retirement more accessible would be low-income housing. Right now, she’s exploring what different living situations she might be able to have in her older age.

“I need both my working income and my Social Security to live where I live. So if I wasn’t able to work, I’d have to really find a decent low-income place to live in,” she said.

Nancy is also worried about the current political situation; which she said seems only bound to get worse for women and people without money.

“One of my considerations is, gee, am I going to have to move to a different country? I think a lot of people are thinking that right now — oh God, am I going to have to move to Canada?” Nancy said. Nancy said she’s glad she’s not younger, or of childbearing age; she’s concerned about our democracy.

“I think a good democracy has a good social safety net for people, especially seniors,” she said. “Under a really bad democracy or a non-democracy, like what I see us heading for, that could go away.”

Are you struggling with retirement savings or don’t have enough money saved? Contact this reporter at [email protected].

Read the original article on Business Insider

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