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It's Not Easy Being Gray: The New Rules of Retirement

Publication Date: February 11, 2009
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Retirement Policy Program and Health Policy Center

The text below is an excerpt from the complete document. Read the full brief in PDF format.


Older Americans face an uncertain retirement future. Policies are urgently needed to shore up Social Security and Medicare, get health care spending under control, and make staying in the labor force at older ages easier, while still protecting disabled workers. This policy brief summarizes a wide-ranging discussion of retirement issues to explore how public policies might adapt to an aging population.


Falling stock prices cut deep into retirement accounts in 2008, dealing yet another blow to our fragile retirement income system. A generation ago, many retirees could count on guaranteed monthly pensions, Social Security, and Medicare for financial and health security. Instead of traditional pensions, many people approaching retirement today have 401(k)-type plans that have been battered by the plunging stock market. Promised benefits from Social Security and Medicare are not sustainable in the long run and will have to be cut unless additional revenues can be found. Declining home equity, rising health care costs, uncertain long-term care needs, low private saving rates, and rising federal deficits further cloud the retirement outlook.

It all adds up to a retirement dilemma that will affect all Americans, not only those nearing retirement. Workers will be expected to finance a large share of the bill for retirees: fixing government retirement programs could require higher tax burdens for everyone. We must think creatively about solutions that consider the whole interconnected cycle of work and retirement. In that spirit, the Urban Institute convened a roundtable of experts in retirement, aging, health, and long-term care policy to discuss the new rules of retirement and explore how public policies might adapt to the diverse needs of aging baby boomers.

(End of excerpt. The entire brief is available in PDF format.)

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