Prepared to be scared if you crack open America, Welcome to the Poorhouse by Jane White. The headlines and chapter titles gave me a fright:
- 80 percent of Americans can’t afford to retire
- the median 401 (k) balance for workers 60-65 (i.e., near retirement) was a paltry $43,000
- mortgage mess: it ain’t just subprime, it’s half of Americans in overpriced homes
- 35 million Americans are drowning in credit card debt
White makes the case that a “retirement crisis” is set to hit in 2011. “The first wave of Baby Boomers, those born in 1946, is scheduled to retire in 2011 and can’t afford to — at the same time my daughter’s generation, one of the largest in history, is scheduled to graduate from college,” she writes. “Will a big percentage of the 4 million graduates wind up jobless because my generation’s 3.4 million Boomers can’t afford to retire?”
I’m almost too scared to keep reading. But the book also offers solutions:
- require employers to contribute to employee 401 (k) programs no matter what
- save wisely until retirement reform happens
- buy an home in an affordable community, like Portland, Denver, San Antonio, Austin, Houston, or Raleigh (the book has pricing, education, and crime stats on each of these cities)
White advocates major reform via a taxpayer lobbying group that will match the power of big business. “We need a national citizens’ PAC that not only issues “report cards” on Congresspeople,” she writes, “but also encourages honest candidates to run for office and replace them…We need a new American revolution against the business lobby and those in Washington who enable it and do its bidding.” One such PAC is called the Accountability Now group and it is backed by a major union and MoveOn.org, a Democratic political group.
I’d like to believe in White’s optimism that positive reform will financially empower many Americans, but I’m not convinced it will happen in the next decade. As a country we have to get a lot poorer before people will be moved to act. What do you think?
Leave a comment on this post by Friday and you could win my review copy! If you can’t wait, buy it from amazon for $16.55 (orig. $22.99).