Retirement optimism stifled by economic realities

Posted: February 19, 2012 at 12:37 am

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My editor (age withheld) shuddered when I told her I had an item about what folks are thinking when they think about retirement.

Here's a clue: Most of them think the 49ers will win the Super Bowl before they get there.

Actually, it may not be quite as dire as my editor fears, if a new survey of Bay Area "pre-retirees" is to be believed. Most, for example, think they'll have enough money to live the good life through their golden years. Less than half believe they'll have to continue working.

There may, however, be an element of Cloud Cuckoo Land here. In a report to be released Monday by Wells Fargo, those surveyed estimate they'll need $1 million to enjoy retirement. On average, they're about 10 percent of the way there. Many acknowledge a lurking fear their savings won't be enough and swear they're going to cut back on spending today to save for tomorrow.

Kids, take note: One-third of parents surveyed said they probably won't be leaving their offspring any money when they die. Oh, and by the way, two-thirds of the pre-retirees, including parents, say they intend to stay in the Bay Area when they do retire. They like the weather and the health facilities.

While that suggests a comfort with their surroundings, said Bob Morgan, a financial planner at Wells Fargo, "There is a significant level of anxiety about what they can do to save and prepare for retirement."

The survey, conducted in December by Richard Day Research, interviewed 364 Bay Area residents, ages 25 to 75, with investable assets of more than $25,000. That amount, of course, excludes residents with far fewer assets and a great deal more to worry about.

The Bay Area findings also differ markedly from a larger national survey conducted for Wells Fargo last year. It found 74 percent of middle-class Americans, ages 25 to 49, expected to work well into their retirement years, many by choice, and a quarter of them saying they will "need to work until at least age 80."

Their estimated nest egg needed for retirement was $350,000, far less than the Bay Area. On average, those surveyed nationally were 7 percent of the way there, even lower than the Bay Area. The reaction from Wells Fargo retirement specialists to the national survey was also more downbeat.

"The fact that the vast majority of middle-class Americans expect to work well past the traditional retirement age has significant societal and economic implications," said Joe Ready, director of the bank's Institutional Retirement and Trust department. "Will people be physically and mentally able to work later in life? What will it mean for young people entering the workforce?"

The Bay Area may be better off than most of the rest of the nation, but the same questions, and gnawing anxieties, still apply.

Less money, more risk: Younger pre-retirees among the state's public employees may have more to worry about, according to the California Public Employees' Retirement System.

Analyzing one of Gov. Jerry Brown's pension reform proposals - replacing the current defined benefits plan with a "hybrid risk-sharing plan," i.e., a tacked-on 401(k) type plan - CalPERS says that the resulting benefits will be lower for new employees.

The report, presented to the Legislature last week, also said the 401(k) element adds more risk and uncertainty for employee benefits.

CalPERS has yet to evaluate other proposals in Brown's reform package, including raising the retirement age from 55 to 67 and having a significantly greater percentage of the pension costs deducted from employees' paychecks.

Socially responsible reward: The Northern California Community Loan Fund got a rather nice 25th anniversary present last week - a $2 million grant from JPMorgan Chase.

The money will go toward the San Francisco nonprofit's housing preservation program in low-income communities, one of numerous programs it has developed since its founding in February 1987.

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Retirement optimism stifled by economic realities

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February 19th, 2012 at 12:37 am

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