By now, many Americans know what they should be doing to save enough for retirement. The problem is that some just aren't able to do so.
Take Anita Neisius. For nearly 10 years, she had a good job, earning nearly $22 an hour assembling construction equipment for a major manufacturer. During that time, she managed to save nearly $50,000 in a retirement account, thanks to her own contributions and her company's match.
Then the financial crisis hit in 2008, and she said her account value fell by $23,000 when the markets tanked. Her employer also was badly hit by the recession, and she endured temporary layoffs, reduced hours and the threat of permanent job cuts.
The stress of not knowing if she could lose her job got to be too much, and she quit just eight months shy of the 10-year anniversary that would have made her eligible for a company pension.
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She also cashed out what remained of her 401(k) to pay off her car loan, figuring that would put her on firmer financial footing if she had to take a pay cut in a new position. It's a decision she says she now regrets.
"It was the biggest wrong move anybody could do," she said, "but at that point it was all I could do to stay sane."
Neisius, 41, currently makes $11.25 an hour at her full-time job as a receptionist at a car dealer in Jamestown, N.D. In the evenings, she works a second job, cleaning the offices of a credit union for $10 an hour.
She recently started contributing 3 percent of her income into her 401(k) plan, which her company matches.
"I know I need to, because where am I going to be if I don't do it otherwise?" she said. "I'll be working forever. … I'll be working 'til I die."
Still, the lower take-home pay has made it harder to cover daily expenses, plus chip away at the thousands of dollars in medical debt she has from emergency gallbladder surgery.
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"I just feel like I'm treading water and I can't hardly keep my head up," she said.
The recession and weak recovery have added to the problems facing mid- to low-wage workers, but Alicia Munnell, director of the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, noted that many workers have been struggling for years with stagnant wages. She thinks that's made it hard for households at or below the nation's median household income of around $51,000 to keep up with everyday expenses and to set aside money for retirement.
"People are just under enormous budget pressure," Munnell said.
Many workers don't even have access to a company-sponsored retirement plan, now considered a primary way to save for retirement. About 61 percent of employees had an employer that sponsored a pension or retirement plan in 2012, and just 46 percent of workers participated in such a plan, according to the Employee Benefit Research Institute. Some may have elected not to participate, while others may not have been eligible.