So I'm reading this article in the Washington Post about the increasing number of USians who are having to dip into their retirement savings "to pay their mortgages, credit card debt or other bills," and I come to this remarkable line:
Those in their 40s have been the most likely culprits — one-third are turning to such accounts for relief.Culprit: 1. a person or other agent guilty of or responsible for an offense or fault. 2. a person arraigned for an offense.
The article then obliquely details some of the systemic failures that have conspired to create an economic crisis that necessitates people dipping into what is meant to be retirement savings in order to sustain themselves pre-retirement:
[M]illions of Americans, caught between flat wages and high expenses for everything from sending children to college to making home repairs, feel as though they have little choice [but to borrow from their 401(k)s. The withdrawals have grown substantially in the wake of the financial crisis.
"401(k)s are not being used for retirement by a large and growing share of workers because they are misaligned with the very basic financial problems most workers face and must address," said Fellowes of HelloWallet, which provides benefits advice to companies.
In theory, 401(k) accounts are better suited to an economy in which workers are changing jobs more frequently than ever because the accounts can be rolled over from previous employers. But their success depends on workers consistently contributing to them and allowing the money to stay in place throughout their careers, allowing their investment returns to compound."But only before we come to this:
Experts warn that when workers draw on their retirement accounts to pay current bills, they put themselves at greater risk of descending into poverty upon retirement, which would leave them dependent on government programs such as subsidized housing or food stamps. Nearly 6 million senior citizens were living in or near poverty in 2010, according to a Senate committee, a number expected to increase sharply over the coming decade after a long period of decline.There is no additional point underlining that these "culprits" are essentially choosing to delay inevitable poverty by "pulling themselves up by their bootstraps" and using their retirement savings to support themselves now. The alternative is not leaving the money alone and eking by in the present; the alternative is immediate impoverishment, accompanied by an ensuing financial struggle that might dig an even deeper hole for the retirement years.
And given that many people are dipping into retirement savings to pay for healthcare costs, the realistic alternative for many "culprits" would be dying, in which case saving for retirement is rather futile.
This is another example of tasking individuals with solving systemic problems.
It's no coincidence that "the most likely culprits" of borrowing from or straight-up emptying retirement accounts are people in their 40s. That's the first post-war cohort who entered a workplace where pensions were not the norm; who are likely to have a lower standard of living as their parents; who were expected to balance generational wage stagnation against the skyrocketing cost of healthcare, education, utilities, groceries, and modern informational necessities. Internet access and mobile phones are not luxury items, especially for millions and millions of workers whose employers effectively or actually require internet access and mobile phones but don't pay for them.
But it's not the corporations, the robber barons, the union-busters, the predatory lenders, and the legislators who rule in service to the former who are deemed the culprits.
It's the people stealing from themselves in order to survive.