Secure retirement harder to achieve in rural America

(RuralWire) – In the midst of all this season’s political hoopla, you may have missed one noteworthy piece of information that is hitting home for almost all Americans in a very personal way, not just those on one side or the other of the partisan divide.
Last month a poll commissioned by Americans for Secure Retirement found that a vast majority of  Americans have widespread anxiety over having the means to retire securely. Among other findings, the survey found that 88 percent of respondents expressed concern about “being able to maintain a comfortable standard of living throughout retirement.” These concerns are extremely high across very diverse demographic groups, including old and young, rich and poor.
However, for those in rural America, this final phase of life has been met with even more apprehension. On average, people are living longer and the cost of living has surpassed what Social Security and savings will provide. And while these conditions adversely affect all Americans, farm and ranch operators and their workers face significant and unique obstacles in planning and providing for their retirement. They are more likely to be self-employed and less likely to be covered by traditional pensions or other employer-sponsored retirement plans. Extreme volatility in farm incomes due to commodity prices, weather conditions, and other factors make it difficult to effectively plan and save for retirement.
For these reasons, many farmers today suffer the consequences of living long lives without having adequate retirement income. Farm wives are particularly vulnerable to declining standards of living in retirement, because women tend to outlive men. Many have experienced this significant decline and a large number live only on monthly Social Security benefits. Considering increases in the average life expectancy, retired farmers are often faced with stretching their savings and investments to finance their housing, medical needs and way of life for 20 to 30 years, without the same sense of security that those on pensions may have.
Only 30 percent of agricultural workers work for an employer that sponsors a retirement plan; either a traditional pension, which makes regular income payments for life, a defined contribution plan such as a 401(k) plan, or both. This means that for a majority of farmers, it is up to individuals to plan and save for retirement and then manage these savings to provide an adequate standard of living for the rest of their lives.
Farmers’ diminished incomes ultimately affect the economic vitality of their communities (many of which are among the poorest in the nation), and strain already under-funded local governments. The greatest concentrations of elderly Americans living below the federal poverty level are in rural America. Farmers, and their families and communities, would benefit greatly from having better access to retirement vehicles, such as annuities, that make it easier to convert and manage their farm assets and personal savings so they last a lifetime.
Farmers represent the best of America. Their commitment to cultivating our land through hard work and dedication not only feeds, clothes, shelters and helps fuel our country, but supports a vital part of our economy. It is a moral imperative to make sure farmers have the ability to have a secure retirement. It also makes for good public policy, as the inability of retired farmers to fend for themselves will impact the budgets of local communities and the federal government, at a time when all budgets are tight.
The clear message is that consequences of ignoring retirement issues are becoming serious. Millions care about and are affected by this issue. As a result, government officials, community leaders and citizens should support public policy that makes access to retirement vehicles, particularly those that guarantee lifetime income, more accessible and affordable to all. Such options are key to ensuring a financially secure retirement for all Americans.

The National Association of Farmer Elected Committees is a non-profit organization composed of and led by farmers, nominated and elected by farmers, and serving them in each of their county USDA Farm Service Agency offices.

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