We’re No. 19! Americans Better Start Saving More

Posted on March 4, 2013 at 6:03 AM PDT by

Slovakia. That’s the country that holds the No. 18 position on the Natixis Global Retirement Index, ahead of No. 19, the United States.

I don’t mean to belittle Slovakia. I’m sure it’s a lovely place. According to Forbes data, its economy is growing at a reasonable 3.3% while unemployment remains stiff, at 13.5%.

Slovakia’s economy provides a GDP per capita, as measured by purchasing power, of about half that of the United States, $24,300 vs. $49,800 in America, according to the CIA World Factbook.

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How are we doing so poorly as retirement savers that we rank below an Eastern European country that only broke away from the Czech Republic two decades ago?

Natixis Global Asset Management, a money management firm with offices in Boston and Paris, says it measures things such as income, the cost of healthcare, how long people live and other indicators tracked by global agencies, among them the World Bank and United Nations, even “happiness” data from the pollster Gallup.

The bottom line, according to Natixis, is that we make a lot of money but don’t have as much to show for it when it comes to material well-being.

In comparison, retirees in the top five countries on the list — Norway, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Sweden and Austria — do better in part because of social safety nets financed by their governments. As a result, Australians are more prepared than we are. Slovenians. Czechs and Canadians.

Natixis, as The Wall Street Journal’s Anne Tergesen reports, believes that such generous government programs could cause trouble for some of these countries as their population ages.

“No matter where you sit in the world, individuals really do need to take more personal responsibility for their retirements,” Tracey Flaherty, senior vice president for retirement strategy and public policy at Natixis, told Tergesen.

“You have rising healthcare costs and underfunded pensions backed by governments, companies, and individuals. The challenges are really worldwide.”

It’s tough all over, yes, but that doesn’t mean we’re doing okay. Relative success can still mean dismal failure.

Digging into the Natixis report, we find out that more than half (53%) of Americans age 30 or older “are on a path that will leave them unprepared for retirement.” Our retirement savings deficit, according to a Senate report, comes to $6.6 trillion, equating to $57,000 per household, Natixis warns.

The point here is not to bang you over the head with yet another alarming headline about the future of retirement. You probably already know in your gut that most people aren’t saving enough, and that you should prepare better as well.

The problem, as Natixis money managers warn, is that far too many people believe that it will fall to someone else to dig them out, once push comes to shove.

“The message is clear: You will be called on to finance more of your retirement,” John Hailer, Natixis president and chief executive officer for the Americas and Asia, said in a release about the index.

“Citizens of other industrialized nations can rely on strong social safety nets in old age, at least for now. In the U.S., we encourage workers to plan, save and invest, and promote policies that help them meet their future needs.”

No kidding. Look, Social Security might be saved. It might be perfectly financeable after all is said and done. A recovering U.S. economy would do a lot to increase our tax receipts as a nation while not necessarily increasing tax rates.

Saving more now

Nevertheless, the Social Security Administration estimates that the average retirement benefit paid out at the beginning of 2012 came to $1,230 a month.

Being an average, the number is misleading, but the takeaway is simple: You won’t get from the government anywhere near enough money to finance the life you led while working.

Even if everything works out perfectly, you will need to have saved more and to have invested it carefully — if you expect to retire on time and with even a minimum of income security.