The “retirement crisis” label clouds policy makers' thinking on what they can do to help people maintain a decent standard of living in their post-employment years, Vanguard Center for Retirement Research Director Stephen Utkus told a Senate panel Wednesday.

Disputing the mantra that the nation’s coming elderly, as a whole, face a declining standard of living, Utkus said that 50 percent to 75 percent of Americans are “retirement ready.”

Rather than viewing prospective retirees as a monolith, the Vanguard expert suggested policy makers think of them in three groups:
•    Half or more of Americans are on track in their retirement planning.
•    One quarter of Americans are partially prepared for retirement.
•    The other quarter are at risk for retirement security.

Even among low-income Americans, who are the most vulnerable to poverty in retirement, Utkus said, there are two segments that should be thought of distinctly by federal and private officials attempting to reduce their numbers and financial stress: employees who will always have low earnings and those who start their work life in low-paying jobs, but see their incomes rise appreciably over time.

For the first group, said Utkus, expanding their Social Security benefits is probably the best answer. For the second group, he said, the most promising idea is to expand the number of employers with defined contribution plans and have automatic enrollment embedded in them.

In advocating for moves to have more employers offer retirement plans, Treasury Department Retirement and Health Policy Chief Mark Iwry said fewer than one out of 10 workers eligible to contribute to an IRA do so.