How are you feeling about retirement? According to the Employee Benefit Research Institute’s 2022 Retirement Confidence Survey (RCS), pretty good.
“Over 7 in 10 workers are at least somewhat confident, including almost 3 in 10 who are very confident,” and retirees are also upbeat, “with nearly 8 in 10 confident they will have enough money to live comfortably throughout retirement, including 1 in 3 who are very confident.”
These figures are virtually unchanged from the prior year’s results, but notably, the survey period was conducted from January 4 (a day after the S&P 500 reached its all-time high) through January 26, 2022.
The period did include the wave of fear around inflation, but the Fed had not yet started increasing interest rates, Russia had not invaded Ukraine, and the broad stock and bond markets had not entered correction/bear market territory.
In other words, things were a lot better at the end of January 2022, than they are today, near the mid-point of the year.
The RCS results found that of those who feel less confident cited inflation and the associated costs of simply surviving as the reason for their declining retirement confidence – and anxiety over inflation has only increased in the months since the early-year survey period.
According to the New York Fed’s Survey of Consumer Expectations, “short-term inflation expectations have continued to trend upward,” with most consumers believing that that inflation will remain high over the next year.
To manage the higher costs of living, many are spending down the excess savings they accumulated during the pandemic. Just over two years ago, during the early and most severe part of lockdown, the US personal savings rate soared to a staggering series-high of 33.8%.
Of course, that rate was not sustainable and by December 2021, it had slid to 8.7%, higher than the 7.3% rate from two years earlier in December 2019. But with inflation near a four-decade high, the savings rate dropped to 4.4 % in April, a 14-year low. (Amid the mid-2005 euphoria around housing and financial markets, the savings rate plunged to 2.1%.)
Given the inflationary pressure on households, you might expect that older Americans who stepped out of the labor force amid COVID, would flow back in, especially those who are over the age of 55. These so-called “un-retirements” have increased since the summer of 2021, according to Nick Bunker, an economist at Indeed.com.
Still, there does not seem to be a wholesale rush back into the labor force for those over age 55, whose participation rate was 38.9% in May, 1.4% below the February 2020 level. (The rate for workers 25-54 is just a half of a percentage point below where it was prior to the pandemic.)
Maybe the newly minted and already retired are doing OK financially. Writing in Morningstar, Mark Miller founder of the excellent Retirement Revised newsletter and website, cites research by JPMorgan Asset Management, which finds that older people “spend less on all categories except healthcare and charitable contributions.”
That makes sense, considering that these people are no longer commuting to work and often own their homes either outright or with a fixed-rate mortgage, which may shield them from the worst aspects of higher prices.
The gamechanger for older Americans, according to Miller, is Social Security, which “is a critical source of protection from the impact of inflation. Unlike nearly all other sources of retirement income, Social Security benefits adjust annually to mirror consumer prices.” While we may see more 55-67-year-olds un-retire, the same may not be hold for those who are able to claim Social Security retirement benefits, at least for now.