THE BLOG
01/15/2014 11:56 am ET Updated Mar 17, 2014

Why Are Most Latinos Not Prepared for Retirement?

As I've written before, we Hispanics are known for our fierce work ethic.

Think of immigrants slaving away at grueling tasks that native-born Americans refuse to do. Or consider that last year, "The number of Latino entrepreneurs grew more than white, black and Asian entrepreneurs."

Yes, we sure like to work. It's unfortunate, then, that so many Hispanics who reach old age have nothing to show for it. This is because "fewer than half of... Latino workers have retirement plans on the job, leaving the vast majority of them with no savings designated for their golden years."

Hispanics between the ages of 55 and 64 have an average retirement savings of $30,000. Whites on the verge of retirement have quadruple that amount, about $120,000. And "Four out of five Latino households... have less than $10,000 in retirement savings, compared to one out of two white households."

So even after abuelo and abuela have put in years of hard work, and should think about cutting back, they may have no choice but to keep plugging away. Obviously, this is a problem for those septuagenarians (and older) whose bodies are deteriorating, and the imagery is too depressing to contemplate.

But why are Latinos so ill-prepared for retirement? Well, as we all know, ethnic minorities tend to make less money than white people, and in this era of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer, "Most of the money is being saved by higher-income Americans, while many working-class and low-wage workers are struggling."

In addition, "Latinos benefit little from the tax breaks and other policy initiatives aimed at bolstering retirement security, because they typically have no money to save for retirement."

Yes, if you have to spend money to make money, you also have to make money to save money.

Many Hispanics have worked hard, but have never had the advantages of higher education and the bigger salaries that come with it. As such, their best option to avoid being the oldest guy on the assembly line is to supplement their meager savings with Social Security or other government programs.

But of course, Congress is debating further cuts to programs that often help Latinos. Whether one is liberal or conservative, it is undeniable that the immediate impact of such cuts will disproportionally hit Hispanics.

So, what can be done to help Latinos avoid an old age of poverty? There are no easy answers. However, there is one advantage that Hispanics have over other Americans. And that is the steely bond of family for which Latinos are justifiably famous.

This is not to suggest that adult children foot the bill for their elderly parents. But certainly, if our familial ties mean anything at all, we should be able to ask tough questions of our elders, to express our concerns, and to work with them to find possible solutions.

If we fail to do this, we only endorse the worldview that the Latino version of retirement is the coffin.