“Downturn Clobbers Public Pension Funds,” says the Washington Post. For example, the California pension system, Calpers, has lost $67 billion over the last 12 months. Government-owned pension systems tend to put about 60% of their funds in the stock market – so they’ve taken big hits, along with everyone else. And most public pension systems were underfinanced even before the stock market turned down.
Retirement financing is going to be a big issue for many, many people – even those who thought they had it in the bag.
Altogether, trillions of dollars’ worth of retirement funds have been lost already. Trillions more are still at risk. After such a long period of growth and credit expansion, baby boomers came to believe that their stocks and their houses were as a good as “money in the bank.” And as recently as 2007, even counting the value of their stock portfolios and their houses, experts found that a high percentage of baby boomers were woefully ill-prepared for retirement. And now their stocks are worth, most likely, about 40% less than they were in 2007…and their houses about 20% less.
And the boomers already have it hard enough without their retirement funds being at risk. The Social Security crisis, as outlined in the companion book to I.O.U.S.A., is projected to only get worse as the years go on. Here’s an excerpt from the book:
“On October 15, 2007, Reuters reported, ‘The latest report by the program’s trustees said by 2017, Social Security will begin to pay more in benefits than it receives in taxes. By 2041, the trust fund is projected to be exhausted.’
“The Federal balance sheet is already unsustainable. And the baby boomers have only begun to retire this year. ‘The baby boomers are not a projection,’ says Senator Conrad. ‘They were born, they’re out there, they’re going to be eligible for social security and Medicare…and yet we can’t pay our bills now.’
“Judd Gregg, the Republican leader in the Senate Budget Committee, puts the looming problems of these unfunded liabilities this way: ‘The only issue more severe than this is the idea that an Islamic fundamentalist would get his or her hands on a nuclear weapon and use it against us. Beyond that there’s nothing more severe than this.’
“Gregg goes on to state that the retirement of the baby boomers represents ‘the potential fiscal meltdown of this nation…and absolutely guarantees, if it’s not addressed, that our children will have less of a quality of life then we’ve had…that they will have a government they can’t afford…and that we will be demanding so much of them in taxes that they will not have the money to send their kids to college or buy a home or just live good quality of life.’
“These grave warnings from leaders in both political parties have largely fallen on deaf ears, but we believe Americans can no longer hide from them. Simple economics dictate that you may be able to spend more than you take in for a long time, but you cannot do it forever.”
*** Making the situation worse – possibly much worse – for the baby boomers is the increase in unemployment. Whirlpool just announced 5,000 job cuts. We typed, “job cuts, October 2008” into Google. We got 3,350,000 hits.
The International Herald Tribune tells us that wealthy Americans are cutting back on eating out…and household help. Our two daughters – both of whom work as waitresses, while going to school or trying to become movie stars – report that getting a job in a bar or restaurant is not as easy as it used to be.
“You used to be able to walk into almost any pub in London and get a job,” said one. “They were happy to take anyone who could speak English. But now, you put your name on a list…and they never call you.”
If there was one thing the baby boomers were sure of, it was that if they didn’t get their retirement financing together in time, they could always just keep working for a few more years. But already, the percentage of ‘seniors’ in the workforce – 16.4% – is higher than ever. And what if the jobs disappear?
for Markets and Money