Three years after the Great Recession officially ended, boomers are still having a hard time making ends meet and finding jobs, according to a new AARP report.
The report, "Boomers and the Great Recession: Struggling to Recover," paints a grim picture of post 50s' mindsets when it comes to their financial well-being. A sample of "current or recent workers" ages 50 to 64 were contacted in October 2010, with a smaller group contacted again in August 2011 to see if boomers felt any differently about their prospects.
"The recession’s effects on older Americans were particularly severe for salary earners in their 50s and early 60s who were counting on more than a few years of additional earnings before retirement and were unlucky enough to lose their jobs."
An overwhelming number of older workers -- who, the study pointed out, have less time than their younger counterparts to recover from job loss or tumbling stock markets and housing values -- felt less secure about their finances. In the first survey, more than half of the 5,027 respondents still felt financially insecure a year after the recession, the report found. The top three reasons for the concern: 65 percent said their jobs didn't pay enough, 54 percent said they had used up their savings and 49 percent said they had debts to repay.
Incomes declined for more than 45 percent of boomers, thanks to myriad of issues including job loss -- 22 percent said unemployment was the reason they were facing tougher times, according to the report. Household incomes fell by 6 percent for Americans between the ages of 55 and 64, according to a report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office.
Recent news also tells us that older workers are less likely to be rehired after they've been laid off. Thanks to lower incomes and job loss, two-thirds of respondents reported they had to dip into their retirement funds. For those 2010 respondents, more than half -- 51 percent -- faced a period where they had difficulty making ends meet.
Boomers' outlooks didn't get much brighter when researchers checked back with a smaller group (1,304 respondents) in August 2011.
"For example, eight out of 10 boomers unemployed in 2010 were still unemployed in August 2011. More than two in five boomers felt that job opportunities where they lived had worsened since the first interview and only about one in four anticipated that job opportunities would be better in another year."
The one plus side? Nine out of 10 boomers who were employed in 2010 were still working in 2011.
1. Start Saving
Americans spend an average of 20 years in retirement. If you're not saving, it's time to start. Begin small if you have to, and try to increase the amount you save each month. The sooner you start putting funds aside, the more time your money has to grow.
2. Estimate Your Retirement Needs
Experts estimate that you will need about 70 percent of your preretirement income -- for lower earners, the figure is 90 percent or more -- to maintain your current standard of living when you stop working. Use <a href="http://www.choosetosave.org/ballpark/" target="_hplink">this calculator</a> to come up with a ballpark estimate. Research shows that people who try to estimate their needs in advance ultimately save more for retirement.
3. Contribute To Your Workplace Plan
If your employer offers a retirement savings plan, such as a 401(k) plan, sign up and contribute as much as you can. Your company may kick in a match, and deductions can be automatically taken from your paycheck. Over time, compound interest and tax deferrals can make a big difference in the amount you accumulate. Make sure your plan isn't a lemon by searching the website <a href="http://www.brightscope.com/" target="_hplink">Brightscope.com</a>. If it falls short, ask the management to do something about it.
4. Learn To Invest
How you save can be as important as how much you save. Inflation and the type of investments you make play important roles in how much you'll have saved at retirement. Know how your savings or pension plan is invested. Learn about your plan's investment options and ask questions. Put your savings in different types of investments. By diversifying this way, you are more likely to reduce risk and improve return. Your investment mix may change over time depending on a number of factors such as your age, goals, and financial circumstances. Financial security and knowledge go hand in hand.
6. Don't Touch!
If you withdraw your retirement savings now, you'll lose principal and interest; you might lose tax benefits or have to pay withdrawal penalties. If you change jobs, leave your savings invested in that employer's retirement plan. Or roll them over to an IRA or your new employer's plan.
5. Understand Fees
The cost of your investments makes a big difference. Index funds are a good option for reducing costs. The Labor Department provides this example: Assume that you are an employee with 35 years until retirement and with a 401(k) account balance of $25,000. If the returns on investment for your account for the next 35 years average 7 percent and the fees and expenses reduce this by 0.5 percent, your account balance will grow to $227,000 at retirement, even with no further contributions. If the fees and expenses are 1.5 percent, however, your account balance will rise to only $163,000. The 1 percent difference in fees and expenses would reduce your account balance at retirement by 28 percent.
7. Open An Individual Retirement Account
You can put as much as $5,000 a year into an individual retirement account (or IRA). Those 50 or older can contribute even more. You can also start with much less. IRAs also provide tax advantages. When you open an IRA, you have two options: a traditional IRA or a Roth IRA. The tax treatment of your contributions and withdrawals will depend on the option chosen. You can set it up so that an amount is automatically deducted from your checking or savings account and deposited in the IRA.
8. Find Out About Your Social Security Benefits
Social Security pays benefits that are on average equal to about 40 percent of what you earned before retirement. You should receive a statement each year that gives you an estimate of how much your benefit will be and when you can receive it. For more information, visit the<a href="http://www.ssa.gov/" target="_hplink"> Social Security Administration's website</a> or call (800)772-1213.