Study: Retirement outlook bleak for unemployed, underemployedNews added by Benefits Pro on July 19, 2012

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By Paula Aven Gladych

A new study by the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies shows the devastating impact the Great Recession has had on the retirement outlook of displaced American workers who lost their jobs or are underemployed.

The study, part of the 13th Annual Transamerica Retirement Survey, found that only 10 percent of displaced workers believe they will be able to retire comfortably.

Sixty-one percent of displaced workers reported having a retirement savings account, but more than one-third of those have taken money out of those accounts. Of those who participated in a 401(k) plan at their most recent employer where they were fully employed, 45 percent indicated they have taken a withdrawal from these accounts, including 63 percent of the unemployed compared to 34 percent of the underemployed.

“The Great Recession has led to a potentially devastating impact on the retirement outlook of American workers who have become unemployed or underemployed,” said Catherine Collinson, president of the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies. “Many have raided retirement accounts to make ends meet – and it will be difficult for them to overcome these savings setbacks once they regain employment. So, it’s vitally important to identify opportunities that may help improve their long‐term retirement prospects.”

Among the displaced workers, the estimated median household savings in retirement accounts was about $5,800. The report found that displaced workers in their 20s or 30s had about $10,000 in retirement accounts. Those in their 40s had about $2,300; those in their 50s had about $2,300 and those in their 60s or older had about $47,000.

“Older workers have been hit hard by unemployment or underemployment and they are at greatest risk,” said Collinson. “Many face challenges finding employment and, when they do, they will have much less time than younger workers to rebuild their savings before they reach retirement age.”

Many of the displaced workers have relied on personal savings and credit to get by since becoming unemployed or underemployed. More than half have tapped their savings accounts, nearly one-third have used credit cards and 24 percent have asked friends or family members for loans.

Transamerica found that underemployed workers are faring better than those who lost their jobs because they are still earning money and have access to employer-sponsored health plans. This has helped alleviate the need to withdraw money from their retirement accounts. Although total household savings in retirement accounts is low among all displaced workers, the estimated median retirement savings of the underemployed is more than triple that of the unemployed, or $7,400.

Underemployed people also are taking a more proactive approach to better their financial situation by making work-related changes like switching industries or professions, going back to school or making lifestyle changes. The report found that 34 percent of unemployed workers were not considering any of these changes.

“The number of unemployed who are not considering proactive approaches to improve their financial outlook is alarming and suggests that many feel overwhelmed or discouraged,” said Collinson. “An important first step toward finding employment is regaining confidence and realigning skills with prospective employers’ needs. Any form of employment, including part-time or underemployment, has the potential to increase access to healthcare benefits, improve saving power, make a candidate more attractive for future career opportunities – and, ultimately, prevent early withdrawals from retirement accounts.”

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