In September, newly appointed Mayor Tim Burgess proposed the Seattle Retirement Savings Plan, which would create the first-ever portable retirement plan run by a city.
Burgess said too many workers are aging with no savings, and that Social Security alone is not enough to live on, particularly in a city as expensive as Seattle. During his remarks, he noted that “40 percent of our workers have no access to a workplace retirement savings plan.”
That’s more than the national average — about a third of Americans have no retirement savings whatsoever — but here, where rents are soaring and medical costs are ever-increasing, the situation is dire.
What, exactly, does it take to retire in Seattle? More than most people have.
A 65-year-old person earning $63,000 can expect to net a little less than $1,500 in Social Security, according to the government’s calculator.
The average one-bedroom in Seattle rents for about $2,066 per month, according to RentJungle. A retired person hoping to rent a market-rate apartment would need to earn an extra $4,700 every month to ensure they paid no more than one-third of their income in rent.
At minimum wage, that’s almost eight weeks of work at $15 per hour — or two months.
It’s no surprise, then, that our seniors are ending up on the streets.
The city of Seattle’s 2016 survey of homeless individuals found that older people were more likely to be sheltered than folks in their 30s, but significant numbers were still living outside. In total, 19.4 percent of the unsheltered people the city interviewed were over the age of 51; 43 percent were over the age of 41.
Even those who own a home may not be protected from the ballooning cost of living.
Even those who own a home may not be protected from the ballooning cost of living. A house that sells for the average price of a home, $722,000, doesn’t plop nearly a million dollars in liquid assets into a person’s hand. And even if it did, that seemingly large figure would only cover rent and basic expenses until about age 77, assuming there’s no inflation, no rent increase, no medical bills and no assistance needed in the later years. Life expectancy in King County is close to 82.
Earning minimum wage, there’s almost no hope for retirement. Social Security can barely touch the cost of rent, and those on rental assistance programs are having a harder and harder time finding anything within their budget.
Even with retirement savings, the future seems grim for Seattle residents hoping to retire in relative comfort. With costs exploding, the next generation of retirees will need to set aside unprecedented amounts just to keep a roof over our heads.
Hanna Brooks Olsen is a writer and policy consultant. Her work has appeared in The Atlantic, The Nation, Salon, Fast Company and Vice. View previous Access Denied columns.
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