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Was the 401(k) a Mistake?

The Daily

The New York Times

News, Daily News

4.5 • 97.8K Ratings

🗓️ 20 May 2024

⏱️ 29 minutes

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The first generation to be fully reliant on 401(k) plans is now starting to retire. As that happens, it is becoming clear just how broken the system is. Michael Steinberger, a contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine, explains.

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From the New York Times, I'm Michael Abaro.


This is the daily.


Over the past few weeks, the U.S. stock market has been on a tear, soaring to record levels, and delivering a shot in the arm to retirement accounts.


The trouble is, millions of Americans don't have such accounts and even if they do have little or no money inside of them.


My colleague Michael Steinberger has been trying to figure out why Americans are retiring so poorly


and traces much of it back to our growing reliance on the 401k.


It's Monday, May 20th. Michael, we are going to talk to you today about what doesn't look on paper like the world's


sexiest subject, but I think actually is a very sexy subject, which is


retirement in the United States. And you began your journalistic inquiry into the subject of retirement in America


with a very provocative question.


You asked, was the 401k a mistake has this vast system of personal retirement plans that we now all


rely on pretty much has has it failed us?


And I wonder why exactly you decided to ask that provocative question right now.


I asked that question right now because we are having an unprecedented number of Americans reaching retirement age.


This year alone, it's estimated that 4.1 million Americans will turn 65.


It's a record number, what the AARP calls the silver tsunami.


And this is the first cohort of Americans, the first generation of Americans who entered the


workforce 40 years ago when 401k's became sort of the


dominant vehicle for establishing a retirement nest egg.


401k's just for the sake of clarity, our employer-provided retirement savings plans.


Basically you set aside a certain portion of your paycheck to an investment account of your


choosing and the hope is that those contributions with the help of the financial markets will grow substantially over time


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