A new Washington Post-Miller Center poll shows Americans still believe a quality education and hard work breed opportunity. However, our belief in the American Dream of retiring with dignity after a lifetime of hard work has been shaken to its core.
Over the long run stagnant wages, increased living expenses and high unemployment have taken their toll, but retirement insecurity has also shaped our disillusionment with the dream. Even if we do everything right, there is a chance we may be the next Tom Palome.
At age 77, the former vice president of marketing at Oral B--one of the nation's leading oral hygiene brands-- is forced to juggle two low-wage jobs to maintain his pre-retirement standard of living. Palome worked hard, paid off his mortgage, and put his children through college, but like most Americans, he didn't save enough for retirement.
"I never thought I'd live this long," admits Palome.
Not only did the former corporate executive not save enough, but he lost the bulk of what he did manage to squirrel away during the 2008 financial crisis. While Palome's circumstances are unique, his story is not uncommon.
According to a 2013 poll by the National Institute for Retirement Security, a whopping 85 percent of Americans are anxious about their ability to retire despite this year's stabilization of the stock market, declining unemployment, and increased consumer confidence. Two-thirds of workers approaching retirement age (55--64) have retirement savings less than their annual income -- far below what they will need to maintain their standard of living in retirement.
The Great Recession has also caused 55-year-old child care provider Madie Green of District Heights, Md., to question her ability to retire.
As parents lost their jobs during the economic downturn, they were forced to pull kids out of Green's formerly thriving home-based child care center. With less revenue, the SEIU Local 500 member had to turn to her retirement savings to maintain her business and pay personal expenses.
Green's business still hasn't fully recovered, making her retirement dreams seem even more distant.
"It's no longer the golden years," Green recently told The Baltimore Sun.
Green and Palome's stories help us to understand why so many Americans' hope for a brighter tomorrow has been eroded. If the American Dream will continue to be a reward for hard work and playing by the rules, then we need to do more to make sure that all Americans have the ability to retire with dignity.