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Boomers grapple with retirement strategies

McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

January 12, 2015


PITTSBURGH ó At 64 years old, Bob Mock has worked as a self-employed skating instructor for nearly 40 years, and he has no plans to slow down.

"I learned a long time ago, if you want a raise, you work harder or you work more," said Mock, who works between six and seven days a week. "Thatís what I do."

With no pension or corporate retirement plan to fall back on, Mock has been contributing to a SEP-IRA and a Roth IRA savings plan for the past four decades.

"I have a good financial program that I have set in motion for myself because there is no pension plan for skating coaches," he said. "So you have to make sure that you are looking forward and making sure that youíre funding those accounts.

"I donít need anybody to help me," Mock said. "All I need is the opportunity to work and I go. I make sure I have all my financial records, such as income taxes, organized. Each year I look at what I have to put into retirement and I just do it.

"Then I keep working because thatís what I like to do."

While previous generations could rely on pensions that provided a fixed monthly income for life, many baby boomers reaching retirement age realize the onus of funding retirement falls squarely on their own shoulders. Many also did not save as well as their parents did.

The stock market can be risky for those over age 60 who cannot afford to take heavy losses on money they need to live on. And those who have managed to squirrel away a few dollars in the bank are getting the lowest rate of interest on their savings in history. Even 10-year Treasury bonds are stuck around 2 percent. While yields may be headed higher in the future, who knows if it will happen in time to help those who need to retire sooner rather than later?

Baby boomers ó born between 1946 and 1964 ó fall into two broad categories, said George Walper, president of Spectrem Group, a Chicago market and research consulting firm focused on the investment and retirement needs of consumers.

"Many are covered by pensions and, for those folks, retirement looks pretty good because they get a monthly check," Walper said. "The other group has worked the latter part of their career with only a 401(k). If they werenít contributing enough or didnít invest well enough, they may be a little short for assets.

"We did some focus groups last year and the happiest group of baby boomers were school teachers; city, county and state workers; and anybody else who was covered by pensions because they had pretty reasonable monthly income."

Retirement assets have benefited from strong equity markets in recent years. Following a strong stock market in 2013, assets at the end of that year ó the most recent data is available ó had grown to $19 trillion, compared to $16.3 trillion at the end of 2012, according to Spectrem Group.

In 2013, there was $7.8 trillion in company 401(k) retirement plans; $6.2 trillion invested in IRAs; $3.9 trillion in public sector retirement accounts; and $985.4 billion in 403(b) retirement plans.

But what about those who have been unable to save for whatever reasons?

According to the Washington, D.C.-based Pew Research Center, as of Jan. 1, 2011, the oldest members of the baby boom generation celebrated their 65th birthday. Everyday for the next 19 years, 10,000 baby boomers will turn 65 each day.

Many of them will have no choice but to stay in the workforce as long as their health will allow.

"So many of them spent everything they earned for living expenses, their kidís college and everything else," said Thomas Mackell Jr., former chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, Va., and author of "When the Good Pensions Go Away."

"I read statistics recently saying to have a decent normal retirement you need $2 million saved up," said Mackell, a senior consultant to the International Longshoremen Association, AFL-CIO for political, legislative and public affairs. "You need $250,000 to protect you if you have no health insurance.

"A very substantial number of baby boomers will never be able to afford to retire," he said. "Iíve talked to a number of individuals who tell me they will work until they drop."

But for some people like Mock, working until the end may not be entirely due to financial necessity.

"For the baby boomers, we are highly identified with our jobs," Mock said. "We become part of our jobs and our jobs become part of our lives. I think thatís the big difference.

"For many of us baby boomers we work much longer into our years because of how we identify ourselves. I think thatís really important and really interesting"

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