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Many Americans say they will have to work until they're 80

One-quarter of middle-class Americans fear that they will have to work until they're at least 80 to afford a comfortable retirement. The Wells Fargo survey is the latest of many showing that many Americans are dangerously unprepared for retirement.

November 17, 2011|By Walter Hamilton, Los Angeles Times

Forget about retiring at 55. Or 65. Or perhaps even 75.

One-quarter of middle-class Americans fear that they will have to work until they're at least 80 to afford a comfortable retirement (if "retirement" is even the right word, given that many of these people may never actually retire).

A survey released Wednesday by Wells Fargo & Co. also found that nearly three-quarters of Americans expect to continue working into what long has been considered retirement age. A little more than half of those said they'll need to work to pay their bills, while the rest said they want to keep working.

The survey was the latest of many showing that many Americans are dangerously unprepared for retirement. With only limited savings, many people are realizing that they either must work much longer, dramatically scale back their lifestyles, or both.

More than half of middle-class Americans in the Wells Fargo survey said they must slash their current spending "significantly."

The average person has squirreled away a mere 7% of hoped-for retirement savings — a median of just $25,000 versus a desired goal of $350,000, according to the survey. Three in 10 people in their 60s have less than $25,000, suggesting that they will have no choice but to live on Social Security.

The Wells Fargo survey painted a more dire picture than most other polls, which typically pin the worst-case retirement age in the mid- to late 60s.

But pessimism may be a sign of the times. A new survey by Yahoo Finance found that 41% of people 18 to 64 believe that the American Dream is "out of reach." The poll found that 37% of people have no retirement savings at all, and more than half have socked away nothing for their children's college educations.

The specter of having to work until age 80 raises a host of issues, including the risk that illness could force many people to drop out of the workforce. And in an era of corporate cutbacks, even healthy older people could be pushed out of their jobs through layoffs or buyouts.

"The fact that the vast majority of middle-class Americans expect to work well past the traditional retirement age has significant societal and economic implications," said Joe Ready, director of Wells Fargo's institutional retirement and trust unit.

The survey of 1,500 Americans was conducted from early August to late September.

walter.hamilton@latimes.com

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