Americans’ Retirement Dreams Clash With Reality, Survey Reveals

It’s one of the jarring lights that the Northwestern Mutual survey reveals about generations’ financial readiness for their post-work years.

Conducted by the Harris Poll from January 3-17, the survey was among 4,588 adults, and indicates a big difference between what Americans think they will need for retirement and what they are on course to save. What people feel they would need for retirement comfort does, in fact, change with age. Across all surveyed, the magic number was set at $1.46 million, yet Gen Z and millennials feel they would need more than $1.6 million; Gen X set the bar at $1.56 million, and the Boomers estimated a lower $990,000. High net worth individuals, earning over $1 million, shoot for a staggering $3.93 million.

These figures present a different picture when it comes to saving, especially for Gen X, who averaged only $108,600—much lower, relative to the 2022 reported pre-tax income for annual household figures at $126,892. This shows a contradictory trend, as 42% of Gen Xers feel that they might outlive their savings and hence expect to retire at the age of 67. The concern is not misplaced, though, since in financial markets, analysts like those at Fidelity Investments have projected that by the age of 67, a person should have saved an amount equivalent to 10 annual salaries to cushion one after retirement from active employment. By this calculation, Gen Xers would need more than $761,000 by age 50, still a tall order that is out of the reach of many but less daunting than the findings of this survey.

Meanwhile, as the retirement saving challenges continue to grow larger in the broader economic landscape of the US. Inflation has moderated but still runs above targets, continuing to squeeze budgets already hit by housing, food, insurance, and utilities prices. The growing anxiety is also due to the fact that most of Gen Z feeling financially insecure.

Gen X has been hit particularly hard, facing their unique economic plight that has been labeled “the forgotten generation.” The younger Gen Zers and Millennials have also started saving earlier than them and are the most ready for retirement, according to the same survey. That’s compared to the least financial security of Gen Xers, per a YouGov survey.

This disjuncture of aspirations and actual savings underlines an incipient crisis: retirement increasingly becomes an aspiration beyond reach for most. Over half of Americans who are 65 and over earn less than $30,000 a year and live on social security and work. Road to retirement security gets harder, with social security imperiled and financial pressures like student loan debt.

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