Having Enough Money for Retirement Still a Top Concern, But Moods Are Changing

“Not having enough money for retirement” continues to be the top financial worry for Americans, according to a new Gallup poll. Shortly behind that worry is “not being able to pay medical costs of a serious illness/accident,” followed by “not being able to maintain the standard of living you enjoy,” which points to ongoing concerns over inflation in America. 

But the full story in more detail is somewhat promising. 

Gallup has been conducting this poll for over two decades, since 2001. Since then, the worries about retirement and medical costs have been the top concerns every year. That means that, overall, our financial concerns have not changed much in two decades, indicating no outlying threats to Americans’ finances. In some senses, it’s nice to have consistency. 

Digging in more closely to the data, there could be signs of relief, especially for those planning for retirement. Last year, concerns about having enough money for retirement affected two-thirds of Americans, at 66%. This year, that concern has dropped down to 59%. That 66% figure was above average in Gallup’s polling, while this year’s 59% is closer to its historical average. 

That means fewer Americans are concerned about having enough money for retirement. At the same time, the concern about being able to maintain a standard of living also dropped slightly from last year. 

Now, this doesn’t mean that inflation has ceased to be an issue in America. In fact, in a separate poll question, Americans overwhelmingly identified inflation and the high cost of living as the top financial problem their family faces. But maybe it shows that, at the very least, we’re adapting to this new normal, rather than panicking. 

Indeed, inflation is continuing to hound the economy, with the March CPI report showing a sharp acceleration, exceeding economists’ forecast. That has meant the Federal Reserve is still holding interest rates steady, leaving us in this limbo. The best high-yield savings accounts continue to benefit those holding onto their money, while would-be homebuyers are struggling under high mortgage rates. Investors, meanwhile, are happy at least that Fed Chair Jerome Powell indicated there’s a low possibility of rate increases in the near future. 

The main story of the economy has, generally speaking, been the same for months now. 

Overall, inflation hurts retirees, as savings are stretched against increasing costs of living and the stock and bond markets have not been reliably strong. Meanwhile, Americans believe the “magic number” for retirement has risen considerably faster than the rate of inflation. The majority of Americans said in Northwestern Mutual’s 2024 Planning & Progress Study that they need $1.46 million to retire comfortably, a 15% increase from 2023, as compared to the inflation rate of 3-5%. 

But this is all happening as hiring and wages have been broadly strong, despite a recent slowdown in the April jobs report. So inflation is still impacting life, but we’re also pretty decently employed. Those closer to retirement are more likely to already be homeowners, so rising home prices can actually be a benefit, as it raises their net worth; additionally, those closer to retirement may be putting more savings into safer vehicles like savings and money market accounts, so, again, they’re seeing benefits of the continued hold on interest rates.

Perhaps, then, the story is that inflation is an annoying itch, but we’re getting used to living with it. 

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