The Occupy Wall Street movement is a barometer of widespread dissatisfaction with our country's value system, in which the well-to-do get a bigger share of the proverbial pie at the expense of the proletariat.
The dour mood extends to Americans' retirement planning outlook. In a survey released yesterday by Americans for Secure Retirement, half of the respondents say they have become less confident about their retirement prospects over the past year.
The pessimism grows significantly among those who are approaching retirement: Roughly six out of 10 in the 45-64 age bracket are less confident.
Clearly a lot of pre-retirees are rattled.
Survey respondents were asked to select what they worried about most among these five choices: Social Security benefits, maintaining their standard of living in retirement, health care expenses for a major illness or injury, the ups and downs of the stock market and investments, and long-term care expenses.
Of those choices, the future of Social Security was the biggest concern. A third (34 percent) of nonretirees worry the program won't be there for them, while one-fourth (26 percent) of retirees worry the benefits will get cut back. The second-biggest concern was the ability to maintain their standard of living throughout retirement, at 25 percent among nonretirees and 22 percent among retirees.
The survey doesn't ask Americans if they are worried if their pensions will be there for them, too.
This week some new figures about pension funding levels were released. Market volatility and a fall in corporate bond yields reduced the funded ratios of private pension plans for the Standard & Poor's 1500 index in September to 72 percent, down from 79 percent at the end of August, according to Mercer. The benefits consulting firm said it believes the levels are at a post-World War II low.
The viability of pensions is threatened, not only due to market forces but also because of corporate greed, as detailed in "Retirement Heist" by Ellen Schultz. Hers is a must-read seminal book on this topic, along the lines of Wendell Potter's "Deadly Spin," which exposes greed in the health care industry.
On Friday, The Wall Street Journal ran a story about the dismissal of a case brought by retirees of Lehman Brothers against the investment bank's executives and directors, after their retirement savings evaporated due to exposure to company stock. The board said it wasn't required to share insider knowledge of the company's finances to the committee appointed to make investment decisions for the employee retirement fund. Never mind that the former CEO sold his own personal stake in the company at a profit before the company filed bankruptcy in September 2008.
Evidence of retirement insecurity is everywhere because our retirement system is broken at many levels, except for those at the top.
Follow me on Twitter: BWhelehan