The Phaserl


Grasshopper Nation: Planning For Those Who Aren’t Prepared

by Adam Taggart, Peak Prosperity:

Whom will you help? And how much will you be able to?

Take a moment to reflect on all the people you care about who aren’t reading this article. Or sites like this, which wrestle with the implications of limits to growth and the concerning unsustainability of the economic and natural systems our society depends upon.

How many of your family members, good friends, and neighbors simply choose to ignore the messages from those of us alarmists on the “doomer” side, and live life trusting that tomorrow will always look and feel pretty much like today? Most of them? All of them?

Look, it’s understandable. Humans aren’t wired well to respond to future risk that isn’t visible as an immediate threat. And temperamentally, we prefer good news over bad, so we seek to overweight the former and discount the latter. Who wants to stress out about what “might” happen tomorrow, anyways — can’t we just enjoy life today?

The rift between the preparedness-minded and those not is age-old, as fables like Aesop’s The Ant & The Grasshopper date at least as far back as the 5th century BCE.

We spend our focus on this website engaging the “ants”, the empirically-minded folks who look at the data and concur that there is sufficient possibility of one or several crises (economic, energy-related, environmental — or a combination of such) occurring in the next several years. And that taking advance action is prudent.

But the ants are the minority.

Forget about planning for the more esoteric risks posed by faulty monetary policy or energy economics — 72% of Americans don’t even have a basic emergency response kit in place should an ordinary kind of disaster strike (power outage, hurricane, tornado, earthquake, etc).

The simple reality is that, if you’re investing your energies towards building resilience against potential hardship, most of those around you likely aren’t.

In the midst of your efforts, are you planning for their lack of preparedness?

Grasshopper Nation
The data shows us that the vast majority of Americans are not ready to deal with even minor setbacks.

In January of this year, released survey findings that revealed that only 37% of Americans would be able to cover an unexpected expense (e.g., auto repair, medical bill) of $1,000 with savings. The remaining 67% would have to borrow from friends and family, cut spending elsewhere, or use credit cards to come up with the funds.

In March, the Economic Policy Institute published an excellent chartbook titled The State Of American Retirement (for those inclined to review the full set of charts on their website, it’s well worth the time). The EPI’s main conclusion from their analysis is that the switchover of the US workforce from defined-benefit pension plans to self-directed retirement savings vehicles like 401Ks and IRAs has resulted in a sizeable drop in retirement preparedness. Retirement wealth has not grown fast enough to keep pace with our aging population.

The stats illustrated by the EPI’s charts are frightening on a mean, or average, level. For instance, for all workers 32-61, the average amount saved for retirement is less than $100,000. That’s not much to live on in the last decades of your twilight years. And that average savings is actually lower than it was back in 2007, showing that households have still yet to fully recover the wealth lost during the Great Recession.

But mean numbers are skewed by the outliers. In this case, the multi-$million households are bringing up the average pretty dramatically, making things look better than they really are. It’s when we look at the median figures that things get truly scary:

The 50th percentile household aged 56-61 has only $17,000 to retire on. That’s dangerously close to the Federal poverty level income for a family of two for just a single year.

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