It’s Save for Retirement Week – but it could be so much more

calendar-sliderBet you didn’t know this is National Save for Retirement Week. Unless your boss is marking the occasion by herding the staff into retirement education seminars, it’s just another one of those manufactured calendar events that tend to fly right by us.

There are other national awareness weeks in October – for fire prevention, school lunches and forest products. And did you miss National Boss Day (October 16) and International Talk Like a Pirate Day (September 19)?

I don’t mean to diss saving for retirement – we do face a retirement savings crunch in the years ahead. Social Security replaces less income than in the past. Defined-benefit pensions are disappearing. Longer lifespans mean many will need to fund longer retirements. And healthcare costs can be overwhelming.

Still, the nation’s retirement challenges won’t all be overcome by simply remembering to save, and the current self-directed retirement system isn’t getting the job done for millions of Americans. It may work fine for affluent households, who have more income to plow into 401(k) and individual retirement accounts and get bigger tax breaks for their contributions. High-income workers also are more likely to have employers who provide generous matching contributions.

Only 42 percent of private-sector workers age 25 to 64 have any type of retirement plan coverage in their current job, according to the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College. The rate of participation in a workplace plan for African-Americans and Hispanics in 2010 was 43 percent and 27 percent, respectively, compared with 50 percent for white workers, according to the Economic Policy Institute. And many who do enroll in workplace plans don’t understand how high fees can eat into their long-term returns.

Clearly, retirement security isn’t just about saving. How about adding some of these events to next year’s calendar?