Research released from the National Institute on Retirement Security provides some stark data on the extent to which Americans are relying on Social Security for their economic well-being in retirement. Using data from the Federal Reserve's Survey of Consumer Finance, they estimate that 38 million households do not have any assets in retirement accounts. The full study is available here.
Now some of these differences may be attributed to definitions -- note, for example, that the report focuses on assets in retirement accounts. If you aren't using a tax-deferred IRA or 401(k) or 403(b) plan your assets -- which could be considerable -- wouldn't count as retirement account assets. Nonetheless, this result does paint a rather dismal picture.
As the chart above -- taken from the report -- illustrates, even those closest to retirement often have little set aside in retirement savings.
Yes, it is very easy to lie with statistics, but it is perhaps even easier to lie with graphs. We recently saw a situation where an unscrupulous politician, intent on pandering to one of his interest groups, briefly displayed the following graph on the screen during a committee hearing on the funding of Planned Parenthood.
The display on the screen was brief, and thus sought to communicate that abortions out-number cancer screening and prevention services. But wait -- look at the actual numbers in the graph (which to their credit they did include): When did 327,000 become greater than 935,573? Or, 935,573 approximately equal to 289,750? Or 2 million approximately equal to 327,000?
This gets my vote as one of the most distorted graphs of the year, and the Bubba who used it should be tossed out of office for either his fundamental ignorance or his crass willingness to distort the data while pursuing his political agenda.
David J. Mangen
I'll use this space to make some occasional comments about statistics, numbers and research issues as seen in the world today.