Race, Class and Retirement

It’s commonly accepted in Sociology that you cannot analyze class-ism (prejudice & discrimination based on class) without also looking at race. Certainly, the recent demographic shift to a “majority” minority would support that. However, it becomes especially stark when looking at the class of people known as “retirees.”

Both economists and sociologists accept that the 401(k) (or RSP as it is known in Canada) has been a dismal failure, as shown in this EPI paper. It simply does not supply income for retirement. However, in the realm of “retired” as a class of people, the racial divide becomes much more stark in the U.S.

This chart from data from the Consumer Financial Survey done by the U.S. Census Bureau is glaring:

retiement by race

Non-hispanic whites have it bad, but minorities have it worse. A typical non-Hispanic white will have about 4.5 years of income at the poverty level at retirement. Minorities will have less than 2 years at the poverty level at retirement. What happens after that? Destitution, in an era where Congress is looking to slash Social Security.

Keeping in mind that these are 2010 numbers, there’s this paper from the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College that shows people tend to save less for retirement during recessions (not a shocking surprise).

What’s worse, is an NAACP paper (PDF) that shows that middle class minorities are more likely to use credit cards to meet basic needs, making saving for retirement unlikely.


And add that a majority of jobs that are being added (or filled, depending on your perspective) are low wage – the lowest wage, and this chart from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showing that only 10% of low-wage workers are participating in a 401(k) isn’t that surprising either.


Letting the “market” drive retirements has been a dismal failure for most people. Retirees are a class of people in their own right, especially as a voting block. It is clear now however, that policy attacks against retirees are also policy attacks against race within the retiree class.

While I’ve spent a lot of time studying “classism,” it simply cannot be done without including race.

This entry was posted in Demographics, Economics, Poverty, Public Policy, Socioeconomics, Sociology. Bookmark the permalink.

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