Too much recent travel, but my wife referred me to this article by Lynn Parramore* (originally published here) on how the 401(k) “revolution” was a big bust for the middle class, something I have also written about. I just wanted to add one quick point to her discussion.
Parramore references the common recommendation that you have at least $1 million in savings to retire. This is usually related to the “rule” that you can take 4% of your savings per year and not exhaust it. That would give you $40,000 per year in income. However, with low interest rates and flat stock market performance (the S&P 500 just topped its 2000 peak this spring), even 4% may be too high as you run a greater risk of outliving your savings.
The flip side of that rule, which I haven’t seen mentioned anywhere else, is that a $1000 per month pension equals at least $300,000 in savings (in terms of retirement income), as $300,000 times 4% is $12,000 per year. If 4% is too high, then its value is even greater. If you can only take 3% of your savings per year safely, it would be equal to $400,000 in savings, for example.
This shows how important it is to protect pensions where they do exist, primarily at the state and local government level. They are being chipped away at varying rates, mainly but not exclusively in red states. Oregon, for example, looks set to cut state pensions in a special legislative session via reductions in cost of living adjustments similar to the idea of using a less generous inflation measure for Social Security to provide backdoor cuts.
It should be obvious that this is even more true for Social Security, since everyone is eventually eligible for benefits. That is why I have argued that expanding Social Security is the best solution to the coming middle class retirement crisis.
* Disclosure: Lynn Parramore is the editor at AlterNet who commissioned my article there on state and local government subsidies to business.
Cross-posted at Middle Class Political Economist.