EBRI Issue Brief

Promises to Keep: Leaders and the Public Look at Saving and Retirement

Jan 1, 1995 34  pages


A debate is taking place regarding current workers' retirement income security. Will they be able to maintain their standard of living once they reach retirement? Will they even be as well off as today's retirees? Both sides agree that the public's attitudes and behavior are central to the issue.

Public Agenda, in collaboration with the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI), conducted a year-long investigation of these issues. This project consisted of a series of in-depth interviews with retirement experts from academia, government, media, and business; focus groups with typical Americans; and finally, national surveys of both the general public and national opinion leaders. The results of this work are published in the enclosed report, which EBRI is distributing as its January 1995 Issue Brief.

Leaders rank retirement saving high as a national concern and generally fear that Americans are not saving adequately.

Americans expect to maintain the standard of living they had during their working years in retirement and are confident that they will succeed. Furthermore, they accept responsibility for their own retirement and are not counting on Social Security to finance their retirement to a great degree.

Stated confidence notwithstanding, three-quarters of the public think they should put aside more money for retirement. About one-half of the individuals who say they should be saving seriously think they have fallen behind, but three-quarters of these believe they can catch up.

Retirement planning and saving are not priorities for many. While large numbers of Americans say they have room in their budget to reduce spending to save more for retirement, relatively few are willing to do so. For example, two-thirds report the ability to eat out less often in order to save more for retirement; however, less than one-fifth say they are likely to do so. Furthermore, Americans typically do not know how much money they will need in retirement.

Leaders think Americans are unrealistically counting on Social Security benefits that will be lower than they expect, but the public is pessimistic about future benefit levels and quite skeptical about how the program is operated. Nevertheless, they support Social Security's fundamental principles.