Obama says aging Americans lack support 'they need to thrive'

A White House policy brief on retirement notes that, as the US population reaches retirement age, more elderly Americans are becoming almost exclusively reliant on Social Security benefits.

Evan Vucci/AP
President Obama speaks at the 2015 White House Conference on Aging, Monday, July 13, in the East Room of the White House in Washington. The president said a secure retirement is a critical component of what it means to be middle class in America.

The aging American population is continually creating new challenges for the country’s financial and health-care sectors, and today the White House issued a call for the country to do more to help the country’s elderly. 

At the 2015 White House Conference on Aging, President Obama noted that almost 10,000 Americans born in the aftermath of World War II turn 65 years old every day.

“We’re going to have to work for it,” said Obama. “We have to work to do more to ensure that every older American has the resources and the support they need to thrive.”

Part of the White House conference included a focus on retirement security.

In a policy brief published on the White House website, the administration noted that a 65 year-old American man can now expect to live another 17 years. A 65 year-old woman can expect to live another 20 years.

“As a result, older Americans have more time to help grow the economy, enrich their communities, and enjoy their families,” says the policy brief. “But longer lives can also challenge older Americans’ financial security, increasing the risk of outliving their assets.”

Historically, retirement was envisioned to rest on three pillars: Social Security, employer-sponsored pensions, and individual savings or investments. But the policy brief notes that Social Security is becoming increasingly more vital to retirement security, especially for women and minorities.

One-third of older beneficiaries rely on Social Security for 90 percent or more of their income, as do nearly half of unmarried older women (including widows), 46 percent of African-American beneficiaries, 44 percent of Asian-American beneficiaries, and 53 percent of older Hispanic beneficiaries, according to the White House. In contrast, 35 percent of older white beneficiaries get at least 90 percent of their income from Social Security.

Without Social Security benefits, the poverty rate for older Americans would approach 50 percent. Each year the program keeps nearly 15 million older Americans, 1 million children and 6 million adults younger than 65 out of poverty.

“Protecting Social Security to help ensure that older Americans can retire with dignity has never been more important,” says the policy brief.

As part of its initiative, the White House is working on a campaign to educate seniors – and Americans in general – on how to save better for retirement.

“Social Security is and must remain a rock-solid, guaranteed progressive benefit that every American can rely on,” adds the policy brief. “However, too many Americans reach retirement age with insufficient savings to supplement their Social Security and enjoy a secure retirement, even after a lifetime of hard work.”

Writing last October, The Monitor’s Schuyler Velasco noted that, despite studies showing that Americans aren’t saving enough, “there’s some recent evidence that habits are improving.” Americans appear to be saving more, even if some statistics suggest otherwise.

Mike Sante, managing editor of Interest.com, told The Monitor then that if most Americans can save up between $300,000 and $500,000 “that will provide the boost they need to have a very fine retirement.”

“But that first $100,000 is the hardest, so getting started is [key],” he added.

In his White House address today, Obama said he has asked labor officials to crack down on conflicts of interest in the retirement savings advice people may get from financial advisers. Obama has also put forward proposals to expand access to employer-based retirement savings accounts.

This report includes material from the Associated Press.

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