A recent Google search of the words "retirement crisis, America" produced 35,600,000 results in 0.09 seconds. Granted, this might not be the best proxy to gauge the depths of the national savings shortfall, but you've likely seen numerous headlines of late chronicling the slow-moving train wreck that's predicted for the country's collective retirement.

The basic narrative goes like this: We're facing a perfect storm of low savings rates, increased longevity and rising health-care costs, pensions landing on the endangered species list as many vanish and some that remain are under assault from cutbacks and underfunding. Add to that uncertainty about the long-term viability of Social Security and fears that financial markets are more volatile than ever and can't be trusted to produce the long-term returns needed to pad a comfortable nest egg, and a gloomy picture takes shape.

These Jeremiah-like headlines aren't new. Witness the above-mentioned Google search where, oddly enough, one of the highest-placed stories--the third story on page 2--was a June 1998 announcement from the Concord Coalition (remember them?) of an upcoming Social Security forum it was hosting with the AARP on "America's Coming Retirement Crisis."

But as the first wave of baby boomers turn 65 in 2011, there's growing concern about whether Americans on the whole have enough resources to fund a potential 30-year retirement. Feeding the angst are surveys painting a dour outlook. Earlier this year, for example, the Employee Benefit Research Institute's annual survey of American attitudes about their retirement preparedness found workers' confidence in their ability to fund a comfortable retirement sank to the most pessimistic level in the survey's 21-year history.

Among the survey's stark findings, 56% of respondents said they have less than $25,000 in savings and investments (excluding their primary residence and any pension plans), and 29% said they have less than $1,000. In addition, 42% of respondents said they calculated their retirement needs by guessing.

As for the respondents' attitudes, 13% of workers said they're "very confident" of a comfortable retirement, which ties the 2009 survey as the lowest in survey history. And 27% said they're "not at all confident" about retirement, which is up from 22% the prior year and is also the highest level recorded by the EBRI's annual survey.

Jack VanDerhei, research director at the EBRI, a nonprofit research group in Washington, D.C., says a significant percentage of people have two choices. First, they can start saving now. Second, they can see what happens at their hoped-for retirement age, and if they don't have enough money they can keep working and defer retirement. "That will be feasible for some people, but it's a risky proposition for many because of health-related issues or because job opportunities might not be there for them," he says.

Affluent Aren't Immune
What exactly does a retirement crisis actually mean? Michael Henkel, managing director at Envestnet/PMC in Chicago, says he doesn't envision masses of people living on dog food and sleeping under bridges. But he does see the potential for a crisis of expectations. "There will be lots of people who'll be disappointed when they get to retirement and understand what they can actually afford to spend out of their accumulated portfolio," he says. "From a financial advisor's point of view, that'll be a tough crisis to solve."

It stands to reason that Middle America and lower have more to worry about than affluent folks who feel the need to seek out--and can afford to pay for--professional financial advice regarding their finances. But that's not a given. "This retirement discussion doesn't go away whether you have more assets or less assets," Henkel says. "It's potentially a universal problem."

Andrew Berg, principal at the Atlanta-based wealth management firm Homrich Berg, believes the retirement crisis exists on a case-by-case basis regardless of income. And he's seen that play out among clients at his own firm.

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