1. "There really isn't a retirement crisis."
You know about Holocaust-deniers, right? Well now we have retirement crisis-deniers. For years, pretty much all the studies and surveys have predicted a tsunami of trouble for baby boomers when they retire. We've been told that the combination of our increased longevity, the loss of our jobs in the Great Recession, and the fact that we've been spenders -- and not savers -- for most of our lives was going to unleash the greatest financial crisis since the bankers did or did not jump from the skyscrapers in 1929. Even among Americans aged 55 to 64 who do save, Motley Fool says the median value of their retirement accounts is a mere $103,000. And that doesn't factor in the millions who have not saved a nickel.
But now, along come the deniers. Andrew G. Biggs -- an American Enterprise Institute scholar who served as deputy commissioner of the Social Security Administration under President George W. Bush -- recently wrote an Alfred E. Neuman "What, me worry?" column in the Wall Street Journal in which he decries any such justification for public panic. He talks about stuff like what percentage of your paycheck Social Security needs to replace, how that formula should be calculated, and other things that will make your eyes glaze over.
But this line, everyone will understand: "Add in 401(k) and other plans, and it should not be difficult for a typical worker to achieve a total replacement rate of 70 percent or even 80 percent through individual savings and Social Security benefits."
Right, except for the millions who aren't covered by a 401(k) or any other plan. A recent report by the Employee Benefit Research Institute put the median amount of a 401(k) plan at $18,433 and noted that almost 40 percent of employees have less than $10,000 invested. Older workers, who have been trying to save for longer, have more. At Vanguard, for example, the median for savers aged 55 to 64 in 2013 was $76,381. That's it. And, no offense intended, that will hardly be enough.
Me? I prefer to just look at the dollar amounts and ask where it is exactly that an elderly person in America can afford to live on $1,335 a month, which is the average amount of a Social Security retirement check.
2. "You should have saved more instead of expecting Social Security to bail you out."
This is a big "No shit, Sherlock" moment. OK, we should have saved more. Right. Got it. Point taken. But some of us didn't, and now what? Are we really prepared to mandate death squads for the elderly to avoid the unpleasantness of watching them go hungry or having them gobble up too much of Medicare? Seriously, what's the solution going to be? Wagging a finger at people who worked their whole lives and lived paycheck-to-paycheck doesn't seem to further the discussion much, does it? Let's make the assumption that most people did the best they could and it clearly wasn't good enough. Now what?
For many, Social Security is what stands between them and the curb. And besides, they paid into it, so give them back their money.
3. "Why don't you find a part-time job if you need more money?"
Happy to, right after we address the problem of age discrimination that runs rampant in the job market. People in their 60s can't get hired. Most say they would be happy to keep working to feather the nest a bit more, but first they need to be able to find a job. And they can't. The EEOC twiddles its thumbs while companies advertise with blatantly biased language like "seeking someone young" or "digital native" or "a recent college graduate."
Forty-four percent of unemployed workers 55 or older had been unemployed for more than a year in 2012, a Pew study reported. And while older workers have a lower unemployment rate overall because they tend to leave the workplace when they lose their job, the ones who are job-hunting find the process an uphill struggle. Maybe what we need is a jobs corps program for those 60+. Wouldn't it be great to flood our overcrowded classrooms with teacher's aides?
4. "Ageism isn't a real thing. It's just that your skills are genuinely out-of-date."
What skills would those be? The ones that cause us to be dependable, bring decades of experience and knowledge to the job and actually have fewer "bad days in the office" than our younger colleagues? Oh yeah, and technology isn't really all that scary.
5. "Well, at least you get free health care!"
There isn't much free about Medicare. Part A, which is the part that covers in-patient hospital care, indeed in most cases does not charge a premium. But it does have a lot of tricky rules. For example: If you don't spend two midnights as an admitted patient, you get handed the full bill. And even when you make the two-midnight clause, you still get to pay a $1,288 deductible. The rest of Medicare -- parts B and onward -- all have premiums, copays and deductibles. Plus Medicare covers you and you alone. If you have a younger spouse, he or she will not be covered just because you are. They too must be 65. Same issue for your dependent children. Most employers' plan have options to cover the whole family.
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