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“I’m taking a beatin’ on my retirement funds. I’m sure I’m not the only one.”

Those feelings expressed by a 70-something retiree in a recent Midwestern focus group reflect a growing concern among average Americans about their ability to retire — and retire comfortably — in the aftermath of one of the worst Decembers in stock market history.

Much of the focus over the past few weeks has been on the government shutdown and the crisis at the southern border. That focus isn’t likely to change until a compromise is reached and the government reopens.

Finding a solution to our outdated and ineffective immigration system is important to both our national security and the nation’s economic future. But over the past month, millions of people have undergone a real scare about their economic future — their retirement. Both parties are going to have to address the issues affecting people’s ability to retire, given the roller-coaster ride that Wall Street has become and the increasing cost-of-living pressures in an era of living paycheck to paycheck.

A Wall Street Journal analysis last year found that more than “40 percent of households headed by people aged 55 through 70 lack sufficient resources to maintain their living standard in retirement.”

That’s a frightening statistic for a country watching around 10,000 baby boomers turning 65 every day, plagued with high debt levels and fewer younger workers to cover Social Security costs. A combination of societal and economic factors has created this increasingly serious situation.

A 2014 Pew Research Center analysis found that 52 percent of people in their 60s were financially responsible for either a parent or an adult child. That’s 17.4 million seniors, with 1.2 million of them supporting both. For many, paying that family tab means dipping into their retirement funds.

Add to that those hit with unexpected health care costs, education debt and, of course, the 2008 economic collapse and now the 2018 stock market losses, and it shouldn’t surprise policymakers that retirement is becoming a more immediate issue.

Retirement pressures have been an “under-the-radar” concern for some time. Washington has known a retirement crunch was coming, but solutions to help relieve those pressures have been sidelined to deal with urgent, time sensitive challenges — both foreign and domestic — from job creation and wage growth to health care costs.

But the extreme volatility of the markets and its impact on retirees and those about to retire is changing the calculus, and the calendar, for those responsible for crafting retirement solutions. For many people, December’s precipitous stock market drop was nothing less than an unnerving and unwelcome return to the emotional turmoil that so many Americans experienced in the fall of 2008 and early 2009.

The impact of this past December’s record-setting volatility and losses in the markets shouldn’t be underestimated. CNN Business called it “the worst December since 1931.”

In a recent RealClearPolitics opinion piece, the Heritage Foundation’s Stephen Moore and Alfredo Ortiz, head of the Job Creators Network, warned that “Americans have lost well over $4 trillion in wealth.”

How much of that $4 trillion loss dampened the retirement hopes and dreams of millions of Americans? That’s a number we don’t have, but it’s probably safe to assume that for those in retirement or nearing retirement, this was a major financial setback.

There was a time when saving for retirement was a much simpler endeavor. Today, trying to pay for mom’s assisted living costs and pay off huge student loans or helping grandpa keep his house and meet your own mortgage is keeping too many Americans from putting away the funds they need for a secure retirement.

It may not be a Washington crisis yet, but the issue of people’s underfunded retirements should be. Its impact is coming faster than we think.

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David Winston is president of The Winston Group and a longtime adviser to congressional Republicans. 


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