NEW YORK CITY— While Asian Americans have the highest median household income among ethnic groups in the United States, the future is worrisome for those who live in New York City, ages 35 to 69.
Nearly two-thirds or 65 percent of Asian American Generation X-ers — people who were born from 1965 to 1980— and Baby Boomers (1946 to 1964) do not have enough savings for their retirement, according to a new study funded by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP).
About 36 percent of these Generation X-ers and Baby Boomers do not have retirement saving plans— either work-sponsored or personal accounts— at all, says the report released this week.
And 28 percent of them are convinced that they are more likely to continue working as long as they can and do not expect to ever retire.
“They have to work harder and longe, and still not being able to put something for their retirement,” Beth Finkel, AARP’s NY state director, said at a press event. “It definitely shows uncertain future for New York City and the Asian Americans at large.”
Causing a lot of financial stress and high anxiety, the surveyed Asian Americans say that the Big Apple’s high cost of living, paying for children’s education, health care costs and paying for student loans are some of the challenges that impede them from saving.
Sandy Poon-Wing, financial planning specialist at Morgan Stanley, was surprised that despite the high-level education of Asian Americans, they have limited access to retirement savings.
“At the end of the day, everything is based on your standard of living. But generally $60,000 [retirement savings] will not going to get you far,” added Poon-Wing. “I hate to put a number to it, but at least it should be half a million.”
However, the report did not break down the results by ethnicity and instead lumped Asian Americans as a whole. The survey interviews were only conducted in English.
“For me, that’s something that stood out in the report. We have a large percentage in the [Asian American] community who have limited English proficiency,” said Howard Shih, research and policy director for Asian American Foundation.
New York City, according to the latest U.S. Census, is a home to roughly 8.5 million people, and 15 percent of the city’s population is Asian. In 2000, about 25 percent of Asian senior citizens and children in New York City lived in poverty.
Nothing for rainy days
At age 51, Janet Gonzalez, a Filipino American who asked to use her second name, has been working in the city since she graduated college. But, after all these years, she says she “has nothing saved for the rainy days.”
“I was once a bookkeeper, an administrative assistant, a receptionist, a researcher— you name it, but I find it very difficult to set something aside for when I get older,” she said. “If something happens to me now, God forbid, I don’t know what to do.”
Gonzalez says that a big chunk of her monthly paycheck goes to pay her rent for a small apartment in Queens, New York, her utility bills and food.
“And, of course, there are credit card debts and student loans that I am forever paying,” she said. “I’d be lucky if I get to travel once a year.”
She says she is thinking of getting a second job at night and getting a personal retirement account. Her current employer does not provide retirement saving plans.
Leaving New York City
The AARP report says that 57 percent of surveyed Asian Americans may not be able to afford to pay for an emergency situation.
Also, 20 percent of them currently have student loans and another 48 percent expect to acquire it in the future, making it harder for current and future student loan borrowers to save.
Those who take care of their elderly (67 percent), the survey shows, say that family care-giving makes it a lot more challenging for them to allocate something for their retirement.
And the study says that 58 percent of those surveyed do not see a long-term future for themselves in New York City and that they will likely to leave, a phenomenon called the Gen-Xodus.
“It’s not really a retirement plan if you are leaving your community,” according to Angela Houghton, AARP senior research advisor.
Daphne Kwok, AARP’s vice president for the Asian American and Pacific Islander audience, says that those who leave will more likely end up being separated from their family and loved ones.
“It deconstructs the whole Asian family structure, and it impacts care-giving at home,” she said. “The ramifications will be cascading.”
Finkel added: “These people are those who go to grocery stores, to a butcher. If we look at this from a tax-based perspective, we will lose taxes for New York City. These people are human capital.”
Action from government
According to AARP, the result of the survey is proof that New York state government should enforce a retirement savings plan for those without workplace-sponsored pension or 401K.
That kind of plan, like the one that Illinois and Washington recently enacted, would certainly benefit Asian American Generation X-ers and Baby boomers in New York City.
AARP says that it will lobby for a state-facilitated retirement savings plan to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. If nothing prospers this year, it vows to introduce it in the next legislative session.
But advocates urge Asian Americans to get a personal retirement savings, whether Roth IRA or 401K plan, and make it a habit to save each month, no matter how little it seems.
“Bottom line is, anything that you save now has a power of compounding,” Finkel said. “It could build up to something meaningful.”