“I’ll Never Be Able To Retire”

I read an article last week about how many folks believe “I’ll Never Be Able To Retire”.  The topic’s been stuck inside my head ever since, so I decided to do some research.

How bad is it, really?

Today, I’ll present what I’ve found.

Google 'I'll Never Be Able To Retire', and you'll get 26 Million hits! Share on X

26 Million Hits!!  Don’t believe me?  See for yourself…just click this link and you’ll see the results.

It’s a HUGE topic, and well beyond the scope of one article. There is a LOT written on this subject (scan a few pages from the link above and pick a few articles to read, fascinating stuff).  By the way, thanks to a reader, John, who sent me Angst In America:  Retiring Broke.  Ironically, it’s on the same topic.

It’s clearly a “Hot” issue.

Today, I provide a “compilation” of highlights I’ve found during my research, focusing on charts, to give you all you need to draw your own conclusions from the data.

The best of the best is below!

“I’ll Never Be Able To Retire”

To get to the Facts About Retirement Readiness, I’ve focused this article on highlights pulled from credible surveys, with thousands of respondents helping to insure the validity of the findings. I’ve boiled down hours of research into “the best I found” to save you the legwork.

Plot Buster: The Facts On The Lack Of Retirement Readiness Are Concerning. Share on X

You’re reading this, so chances are good that you’re on solid footing.

Regardless, this topic is worth your attention.  If things are as bad as the numbers indicate, it’s worth considering the possible implications for all of us.  We’re not going to let folks go hungry, and there will likely be growing political pressure to address the situation.  (e.g., Higher Taxes?  Means Testing for Social Security? Higher insurance premiums if you have $?, etc. etc.).

Pay attention, folks.

The Facts….

With that….here’s the best research I’ve found.  I’ve added a header for each study, followed by key findings.  I’m including a lot of charts, as I think they’re effective in sharing information.

CareerBuilder Survey:

CareerBuilder conducted this survey in March 2017, the results are summarized below:

Half of workers >60 can't retire until Age 70 at the earliest. Share on X
  • Half of workers Age 60 don’t think they’ll be able to retire until Age 70 at the earliest:
    • 30% don’t think they’ll be able to retire untli Age 70 or later.
    • Another 20% don’t think they’ll ever be able to retire.

Employee Benefits Research Institute

I found this report from the Employee Benefit Research Institute particularly relevant.  Highlights:

24% of workers have less than $1,000 saved for retirement! Share on X
  • Nearly half have saved less than $25k for retirement.
  • 24% have less than $1,000 saved for retirement.
  • Only 18% feel “very confident” about their ability to retire comfortably.
  • 40% feel “not too” or “not at all” confident about their ability to retire.
  • Half of those who have under-saved plan on working in retirement.

Following are several charts from the EBRI study, which I thought were relevant to the discussion.

First: the confidence level for those that have a retirement savings plan vs. those that do not. 71% of those with a plan are very/somewhat confident, versus only 33% for those without a retirement plan.

Next, 31% report being “very/somewhat” stressed about retirement preparedness:

Next, it’s interesting to see what folks think they’ll need for retirement.  Folks need to learn about the 4% rule (those thinking “<$250,000 would have to live on $10,000 per year)!  Um….I don’t think so:

Finally, do you think you’ll work in retirement to make ends meet?  So do lots of others.  The reality, most retired folks don’t work.  Hmmmm, those retirement jobs may not be as easy to find as you think (or maybe those lucky retirees all have pensions, weren’t those were the days?):

The State Of American Retirement

This study, by the Economic Policy Institute, is a comprehensive view on retirement readiness, presented in a “Chart Book” format.  It’s worth a look.  Charts that I found interesting:

Only 53% of workers participate in any type of retirement plan (!!):

Avg Retirement Savings for Age 50-55 is $125k. At 4%, that's $5k/yr of retirement income! Share on X

College Matters!

Social Security is Majority of Income for > 60% of People

I could go on….and on….and on.

However, this post is getting long, so I’ve decided to add links to a few other studies I found which are worth your time.  I’ll add only one chart per study to give you a sense of their content:

The Insured Retirement Institute

Their Boomer Expectations For Retirement In 2016 is worth a read.  The basic conclusion is that confidence levels are falling, and many Baby Boomers have low or no savings.  Boomers will face tough choices ahead.

Gallup Poll

Gallop conducted this Retirement Poll, which focuses on projected retirement ages.  Their conclusion:  the age at which today’s workers expect to retire is significantly older, on average, than the age current retirees left the workforce.



While one could debate the details, there’s little doubt that the Baby Boomer generation faces a serious Retirement Readiness gap.  Study after study confirms the macro trend, and we’re running out of time.  A significant portion of folks in their 50’s and 60’s simply have not saved enough money to pursue a “typical” retirement.  Many are starting to face the reality that they’ll have to work much longer than planned.  Unfortunately, the reality is that many will have to leave the workplace earlier than they think (see Will You Be Forced To Retire Early?).

As millions of unprepared Baby Boomers face a looming crisis, I worry about the consequences.

For them.

And for all of us.

Now It’s Your Turn:  What do you think about the state of Retirement Readiness?  Does it concern you? Let’s have a discussion in the comments below.





  1. Love the extensive research here, Fritz. I just recently wrote a post called “What to do if you’re late to the retirement savings game” for this very reason. I’ve watched my mom and my MIL both living off of very, very little in retirement. It’s not fun. If they run out of cash we’ll be supporting them, which is one of the reasons I’m so glad we’ve got our own tails covered for retirement. In spite of the massive debt load we accumulated up until recently, we did manage to do some serious retirement saving. This and our soon-to-be-gone debt will help us be able to afford helping them. But I wonder what the U.S. govt will require of us savers in terms of helping the rest of those who aren’t saving. 🙁

    1. Laurie, I wrote a similar piece about a real life couple, Betty & Gordon, who had nothing saved at Age 49 yet retired by Age 63. Most, unfortunately, appear to not “get the message” in time, I hope we can make a difference.

      Good for you for being willing to support your parents, it’s something we believe in as well. Unfortunately, being part of the “sandwich generation” just means that much more saving that we have to do! I, like you, worry about those who don’t have such generous family support. Thanks for your note (love your site, btw!).

        1. They are, indeed. I LOVED that phone call with Betty, and am happy to call them friends! We still text from time to time, think I’ll send them a text today and let them know we’re talking about them! (BTW, that post has proven to be a popular one, with over 4,000 views to date!!).

  2. I’ve seen the odd stat here and there about retirement readiness, but seeing it all laid out like this is alarming to say the least. Great post!

  3. It is scary to see these numbers. I know many people who are or will be in this boat. Most are above average earners. They just seem to spend, spend, spend. My 50 year old neighbor told me last week that “nobody really retires”. Well, he might not because he just built a new home and he and his wife both drive new German cars. On one hand I have on empathy and on the other I feel that we have to live with our decisions.

    1. Dave, thanks for your comment. I don’t know about “most” being above average earnings, but there’s no doubt that many folks spend all they make, regardless of income. I had lunch with my insurance guy a while back, and he told me the story of several C-Level clients of his who make “~$1M/year”, and yet are broke. Amazing how short sighted many folks are, and how many are on the cliff of having to deal with those decisions in the very near future.

  4. Good to see all the data in one post, I have been reading about this pending issue for some time. I do wonder what the government will do in the future around this topic. I have had some conversations with a few people in various age categories over the past couple of years, even before I retired at 55, most just don’t want to “live today like no one else, so you can live tomorrow like no one else”. We have a society where people want to be like everyone else, vs live their own lives …. ooops bordering on a rant – thanks for the great post!!

    1. Hey Kirk, great to see you out here in your final weeks before the Pacific Crest Trail!! LOVE the Dave Ramsey quote. The more I mature, the more I see the wisdom in that quote! Thanks for stopping by! (and, GREAT seeing you this past weekend, good luck on the hike!!).

  5. It’s definitely sad that a lot of people don’t have retirement funds, though I don’t see the solution. Social security better be there in 10-15 years… that’s about the only thing that will save many of these people.

    Thanks for sharing Fritz – loved all the graphs! (also, I see what you did there with regards to SEO 😉 )

    1. Erik, I don’t see the solution, either. I originally was going to add a section with some ideas for folks, but felt it best to simply focus today’s article on the issue. The solution continues to evade me. We each have to focus on the things within our control. Hopefully, we can influence a few others along the way. (And, you’re a sharp one to catch my “keyword” SEO title!).

  6. 69% are either not too stressed or not at all stressed about retirement.

    I think we need more people to be stressed about retirement. Maybe that will prompt some change. 🙂

    1. I stress about retirement all the time and I should have a pretty good pension from the Military, plus I have been saving for years, had a setback with divorce, but back on track and think I will be good when I retire in 5 years.
      I don’t understand why people just don’t worry about it. I have always heard people say they will work until they die, but can’t see how their body would let them in a lot of cases. Living on SS just don’t seem like a viable solution.

  7. Thanks for all this great information Fritz. I definitely concerned about the future of the Boomers and us Gen X’ers. While Betty & Gordon got the message at 49 and were able to retire at 63, I’m afraid many of my peers aren’t getting it. Which has me fearing for all of us. I do plan to spread the news and hopefully kick some butts into gear.

    1. Amy, thanks for stopping by! I worry, as well, and decided to try to “Make A Difference” by publishing an article about the problem. Hopefully the folks that need to see it, will see it. Looking forward to meeting you and your Mom this weekend!!

      1. Fritz, unfortunately most of the people that read these blogs already get it. I read them to motivate me and keep me in the zone. Others avoid it and don’t want to bother with it. I have a lot of friends and family members that say “live for today,” I ask about tomorrow and they say it will be alright and everything will work its way out.

  8. Thanks for all the data. Very sobering. I lived in a huge apartment complex in Manhattan and at the first of the month, all the widows hovered by the mailboxes waiting for the mailman to deliver their social security checks. They were totally dependent on that money for rent, groceries, etc.

    For those of us who fall into the segment with a plan, and who have confidence, I think one of our biggest concerns is to make sure we don’t have false confidence.

    1. Sobering, indeed. I like your point about “false confidence”. We never know what the future will bring, and the political ramifications of this lack of retirement readiness could be a Black Swan for those of us who have prepared well for our retirements. Sad about those widows in Manhattan, I suspect there are many, many stories like that. Lonely and Broke is no way to live in retirement.

  9. Great article Fritz, but I am not optimistic about people that have spent for decades being able to start power saving in the last 10 years. Consistency is a virtue when it comes to retirement saving. I agree that we may feel the pain along with the retirees that have not saved enough.

    1. I agree, Dan. Slow and steady is the best course for retirement planning, and it will be tough for anyone seriously behind to “catch up” in their final years of work. Betty & Gordon have proved it can be done, but it takes a major change of lifestyle, and a recognition of the seriousness of their situation.

  10. Way to wake up and stress out!!!! Now I am ready for retirement. Thanks for putting all of the research in one place. It is a sad state of affairs out there. Along with low savings, consumerism is always pushing it’s way into our lives. For instance, my in-laws or parents, both who are doing okay thus far financially keep changing out furniture, talking about buying new cars, etc. Here I am with my old couch and my old car in my peak earnings. It is kind of nuts.

    1. Good morning, Dad!! Sorry for your stressful start to the day! A little stress may be just what folks need to face their reality (um, like those in-laws of yours!). Savor that old couch and car. Did I mention, I drive a 2010 Nissan!?

  11. Unfortunately, too many Boomers are locked into the mindset that they will simply work longer if they can’t afford to retire. However, the decision to work – or not work and in fact, retire – may not be up to the individual. I remember a Retirement Confidence Survey from the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) a few years ago which noted that a large percentage of retirees leave the workforce earlier than planned (49 percent in 2014) and many who retire earlier than they had planned often do so for negative reasons, such as a health problem or disability (61 percent).

    As I always tell people, it is absolutely in your best interest to develop – and actively manage – a retirement plan even if you don’t ‘plan’ on retiring. And of course, the sooner the better!

    1. I so agree with you, James. A few co-workers of mine have made those types of statements. I try to remind them they may not have the ability or the choice to work in their older years and encourage them to make other plans.

  12. It really worries me but I’m not at all surprised. Many of my (Gen X) friends only save for retirement because I harass them about it!

    I tend to lean left but I have my doubts that the government can do much about this. What we’ll likely see are groups of seniors forming their own communities (similar to communes) to care for each other and pool their resources.

    It’ll be interesting to see what kind of solutions people come up with because there’s no way nursing homes can care for so many low income people all at once.

  13. Hopefully some of those that are stressed pop on by this blog and some others. Of course, facing reality isn’t helpful unless life changes follow.

    I’m mildly stressed. Currently have a small retirement account, house and other debt will be paid off in about 17-years (not bad), but also do believe SS will continue to be a necessary underpinning. I don’t have a problem with them removing the limits on income that can be taxed, if solid changes are written into law that keeps them (the Gov’t) from continuing to borrow from SS.

    Save more, spend less, and look for ways to earn more while you can. Seriously analyze where you are spending $ and determine if some of those things are truly necessary.

    cd :O)

  14. Wow! Numbers and charts on steroids! I like it! This is a great reference for the extent of the retirement mess!
    Some people I talked to have the mindset that all they need to do is to start saving a few $100 per month once they reach age 50, hire a smart adviser and/or read some books on investing and everything will be A-OK. Good luck with that!

  15. Too many people have grown up without a good understanding of “wants” versus “needs”. They spend too much money on the wants and neglect to save for the needs of the future. It is disheartening to think that the government might ultimately increase taxes, means test benefits or invoke other penalties against people that saved for a comfortable retirement rather than buying oversized homes, high priced autos and the latest gadgets like so many others did. We’ve become a consumption society where having something is what’s important, not the value or the long term impact on your financial security. This makes me think about my mother-in-law and her sister-in-law. Both had similar incomes all their lives. MIL saved whatever she could. Her SIL spent every penny. When they got sick and needed nursing care, SIL qualified immediately for Medicaid because she didn’t have any assets since she spent it all. MIL would have had to sacrifice the savings she spent a lifetime accumulating. Doesn’t seem fair, does it?

    1. No, it doesn’t seem fair. And, as you say, it’s possible it will only get worse. Control what we can control, not much more we can do (besides attempt to spread the message!). Thanks for your comments.

  16. I also think the government needs to equalize the benefits between the employer sponsored 401k and the individual’s IRA. It makes no sense that someone can’t save the same pre-tax earnings in an IRA as their neighbor can in a 401k. Many people who work for small businesses are at a disadvantage simply because of this inequity.

  17. This was my world before I discovered online business as an entrepreneur while still a corporate executive!

    I can tell you it’s a frightening notion believing you’ll retire at some paltry level of existence you never envisioned. You need to dig deep and never, never, never give up.

    The opportunities today to reinvent yourself and leverage the New Economy to create a spectacular retirement are abundant and accessible. It’s an amazing time to be alive!

    Great stuff Fritz Right up my alley!

    1. Ian, I just spent some time on your site, and I can see why this one hit home with you. Fascinating story, good for you for figuring things out before it was too late! Others need to learn from you, hopefully this story will help in the effort!

  18. ‘Amazing’ minds do think alike, Fritz, as you said earlier. I covered this topic from a slightly different angle here: http://tenfactorialrocks.com/retirement-crisis/

    What’s clear is that without government provided support of some kind, most people are not – and will likely never be – prepared for retirement. In an inverted way, this makes me confident of Social Security being there for all (despite the doubters) as any major benefit cut there will plunge many people into abject poverty. No democracy that depends on senior citizens vote would allow that.

    1. Gees, 10! First we both write about PAWS, and now we’re both on the Retirement Crisis thing. Two weeks in a row! Amazing minds. Both times you wrote before me, and both times our thinking was remarkably well aligned. While I agree with you that SS will always “Be There”, I suspect it will become far less generous to those who have responsibly saved.

      Also, I GUARANTEE you that my post next week is not something you’ve written about yet. Teaser: “I Was Stalked By A Drone!”. Stay tuned!

      1. Haha. I haven’t been stalked by a drone yet, so rest easy 😀

        You believe SS will become means-tested? That will be a bummer but I believe it will only apply to those at the upper end of monthly benefits, maybe the top 20%. Still, all this is easily fixable if they remove the income ceiling for SS payroll deductions.

        1. I don’t know if SS will becomes means-tested, but I do expect there will be some methodology to reduce benefits to those with higher incomes. Also, I do agree with you that eliminating the ceiling on payroll deductions is a possible change, and I can’t really disagree with the need.

  19. Just amazing how many people are not taking advantage of defined plan matching funds. Could not believe the stats on that one.

  20. I love the hefty use of data. I’m not surprised by the stats at all. The boomers started in an era of pensions and lifetime employment. They ended in something far less and weren’t prepared culturally for the change. I’m actually more curious to see where gen x will end. I think it’s still going to be bad but they are the first generation without pass pension safety nets. That’s not excusing saving more, just pointing out it’s different when you expect to spend you career with one employer and have a pension.

    1. Good point, FTF. I would hope that GenX will learn from the Boomers. Given that X will go their entire careers without hope for a pension, one would hope they’d get an earlier start than many of the Boomers did. Time will tell.

  21. Yikes! Makes me happy to know I had some scruples when I was younger…though not many. In fact, I think I only joined the 401k program because they told our class if we all joined they would pull a name from a hat for a $50 gift card. I didn’t win the gift card but 15 years later I never stopped investing! Now my company automatically opts you in to the 401k though im not sure which percent.

    1. Hey Cuz! Too funny that you joined your 401(k) for $50 (great ploy by your HR group). Who’d have thunk it’d ultimately be the most important tool on your journey to FI!! I like the move for “automatic enrollments”. Too many “new hires” don’t understand the importance, and evidence is clear that “auto enroll” works. Thanks for adding that to the discussion!

  22. Great article Fritz and nice research. Here is another mind blowing statistic:

    A 2015 poll by gallup found that only 32% of employees are engaged in their work.

    In other words, almost 70% hate their jobs…plus if you add Fritz’s data that most aren’t ready for retirement…sounds like we have a lot of people that will have to work longer at jobs they hate.


  23. Interesting that all of the recent research and data point to the same problem. The one that struck me the most is the mean income of seniors, which ranges between $18,213 and $26,045. which means that most seniors today are struggling. As more and more enter that age group and with pensions going the way of the dodo bird, we’re heading for a near future of even greater hardship.

    We can all see the train heading off the cliff but I really don’t see a good solution to this. Government can only do so much and we don’t want to break the backs of young people to keep their elders afloat.

    I agree we need to keep stressing the importance of saving for retirement but we also need more planning about how to deal with this problem since it’s fairly certain we’ll soon have large numbers of retired people who can’t afford everyday living expenses. I’d love to see a discussion on ideas such as communal living as noted by one of the commenters (not sure how many of us Americans who love our space would be up for this type of living – even the idea of a gated 55+ community gives me hives) or any other ways that people with very limited means can survive.

  24. Those are some depressing statistics. I love the FIRE movement and hope more and more folks find it, but articles like this hit home because forget early retirement (FIRE)…most folks just need to find and plan for any retirement.

  25. Hanging with the early retirement crowd and the reading I do, it is hard to retirement participation is declining. It gives me even more resolve to keep getting the word out. Awesome article.

    Tom @ HIP

  26. My concern is that the folks who made bad choices will now will insist that the government must take care of them. So, the politicians will figure out how to redistribute more wealth from folks who made good choices to those who made bad choices so as to buy their votes. This becomes more and more apparent as folks hit retirement age and figure out they cannot live the lifestyle they were expecting or were living before expected retirement. So, the people who planned ahead and played by the rules will once again be taken for suckers.

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