For America’s 44 million senior citizens, plus tens of millions of others who are on the threshold of retirement, last month marked a watershed moment that is worth celebrating. At the end of October, the Federal Reserve announced the first step in returning to a more normal monetary policy. After nearly six years of near-zero interest rates and quantitative easing, the Fed is ending its bond-buying program and has signaled a plan to eventually begin raising the federal-funds rate, raising interest rates to more normal levels by 2017.
U.S. households lost billions in interest income during the Fed’s near-zero interest rate experiment. Because they are often reliant on income from savings, seniors were hit the hardest. Households headed by seniors 65-74 years old lost on average $1,900 in annual income over the past six years, according to a November 2013 McKinsey Global Institute report. For households headed by seniors 75 and older, the loss was $2,700 annually.
With a median income for senior households in the U.S. of roughly $25,000, these are significant losses. In total, according to my company’s calculations, approximately $58 billion in annual income has been lost by America’s seniors since 2008.
Retirees depend on income from their savings for basic living expenses. Without that income, many seniors have taken on greater risk to increase the potential yield on their savings, or simply spent down their nest eggs. After decades of playing by the rules, putting off spending and socking away money, seniors have taken it on the chin. This strikes a blow at the core American principles of self-reliance, individual responsibility and fairness.
Their lost income affects all Americans. Seniors make up 13% of the U.S. population and spend about $1.2 trillion annually—a big chunk of America’s $11.5 trillion consumer economy. In general, seniors spend more than their income, withdrawing each year from accumulated savings, and so their interest earnings get spent right back into the economy.