About the Interviews
Forty-two years old and newly divorced, Jeanne Jaubert has budgeted her life—even her haircuts—to the age of 80. With a meager musician’s salary as a cellist with the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra, Jeanne fears she will never be able to afford retirement.
Judging by her own numbers, she’s right. In 20 years, instead of being retired, she’ll be $32,184 in debt. Adding to her anxiety, her pension is in trouble after the plan endured its worst investment losses in its 50-year history. Once considered a steady, guaranteed income in her golden years, Jeanne’s pension paycheck is now a big question mark.
Nick Troiano is a millennial on a mission to reclaim the American Dream for his generation. At 24, Nick is already aware the ending to that dream—a secure retirement—is in jeopardy. Armed with encyclopedic knowledge of Social Security’s future insolvency, Nick reveals to his Grandma that benefit cuts may be necessary to save the program for generations to come, showing her the program’s own disclaimer in his online statement.
Social Security’s uncertain future is also a big concern for his parents, who willfully took on his $150,000 college debt. A part-time graduate student at Georgetown University, Nick is also a full-time activist, leading The Can Kicks Back, a youth-driven, non-partisan campaign fighting to reduce the nation’s growing debt. Our cameras follow Nick as he takes his campaign’s message to the office of U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan for a Broken Eggs exclusive moment: The 2012 vice-presidential candidate and one of D.C.’s most powerful players in budget brokering candidly tells Nick, “Everything you care about—your entire future—it could be messed up by these people in Washington.”
Bob & Julia Beardsley
Baby boomers Bob & Julia Beardsley thought they had their retirement all in order. That was before Bob lost his job as an executive consultant. Laid off for the third time in the last eight years, Bob is struggling to find work at 64, an age when many are looking forward to retiring.
Complicating his job hunt, the couple’s San Francisco Bay Area home lost half its value in the real estate bubble so moving isn’t financially feasible. Now stuck in a home that can’t afford to retire in, they’re forced to dig deep into their nest egg just to get by and worry just how long their savings will last.
Recent Stanford University graduate Michael Tubbs didn’t chase a high-paying career after college. Instead he returned to his bankrupt hometown of Stockton, California, won a seat on City Council and became the youngest city councilman ever at the age of 22. Before the fall of Detroit, Stockton held the notoriety of being the largest municipality to declare bankruptcy.
Suffering under the weight of underfunded public pensions and rising health care costs, Stockton city officials are forced to cut back on the city’s basic services and to eliminate retiree health care in order to keep pension payments intact. Even with high poverty and unemployment rates, city officials consider raising taxes to combat crime. Michael, who teaches by day and goes to city council meetings by night, is determined to turn around the city’s fortunes so that generations to come can enjoy a better future before it’s too late.
Debbie Kinkela and Arin Strom
Debbie Kinkela and Arin Strom knew as soon as they married they wanted to start a family. Then seven months into her much anticipated pregnancy, Debbie learned her baby would be born with a congenital heart defect. The unexpected news came within a week of Debbie losing her job, the couple’s income dropping in half just as the medical expenses began to pile up.
Debbie and Arin’s daughter, Cece, now a happy, bouncey three-year-old will likely need heart surgeries for years to come. With so much money needed for health care, putting money away for retirement isn’t the top priority. Though Arin diligently puts money in his employer-provided 401(k), he worries it’ll never be enough to retire on.
Turning America’s retirement prospects around is the chief responsibility of Mark Iwry, a senior adviser to the U.S. Treasury Secretary on retirement policy, and the country’s likely architect for retirement savings of the future. Iwry is determined to change America’s saving habits through automatic enrollments in individual retirement accounts or “auto-IRAs” for those who currently don’t have access to employer-sponsored plans.
“We can make it easier still for people to save,” Iwry says, “and thereby get many more of our fellow citizens on a path to having adequate retirement security. Right now we’re not on that path. Too many people are just not saving enough.”
Social Security is not only bankrupt, it’s bankrupting future generations, says Laurence Kotlikoff, author of The Clash of Generations and a professor of economics at Boston University. “We’re not measuring what we’re doing to our kids. We’re not talking about who’s going to pay for a different generation’s benefits,” says Kotlikoff.
A former senior economist with the President’s Council of Economic Advisers in the early ‘80s, Kotlikoff sounds the alarm bells, pointing out the major shifts in demographics since Social Security was passed in 1935—fewer workers, more retirees, longer lives and fewer babies. These changes, he says, are bringing Social Security’s solvency to the brink. Without Washington committing to a real change in policy, Kotlikoff warns, America’s retirement prospects are in peril.
Teresa Ghilarducci, a Social Security defender and professor or economics at The New School of Social Research, has studied the savings and assets of future retirees. Her startling conclusions suggest working Americans are actually “going backwards” – the first time since Social Security was passed in the throes of the Great Depression.
Ghilarducci’s research found that half of middle class older American workers will be poor or near-poor retirees with less than five dollars a day to spend on food. Author of the book When I’m 64 and a leading authority on the economics of aging in America, Ghilarducci offers simple solutions to getting Social Security back on track. It’s a program worth saving, she says, so that every American—rich or poor—can enjoy the right to retire.
David Crane, a lecturer in Public Policy at Stanford University and President of Govern for California, breaks down why cities like Stockton, California, are struggling to afford basic city services while funding costly public pension plans. A former economic adviser to California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and a member of the Volcker-Ravitch State Budget Crisis Task Force, Crane has an insider’s view of why municipalities across America are failing to adequately fund pension obligations.
Crane argues that any meaningful pension reform requires politicians to commit to better stewardship of those plans. “The problem is not pensions in and of themselves,” as Crane explains, “it’s the governance of those plans.”
Brian Graff represents retirement industry professionals as the CEO of the American Society of Pension Professionals and Actuaries. In his role, Graff advocates for a strong public and private retirement systems, arguing that it’s not one model against the other.While one 401(k) critic calls the model a “failed experiment,” Graff says the opposite is true, that giving individuals the choice to save for retirement through employer-sponsored 401(k) plans is working, making Americans with access to the plans 10 times more likely to save for retirement.
Absent today’s 401(k) offerings, he says, many people would fail to take the initiative to save for retirement on their own—a recipe for disaster as people live longer. “You have people who are retired for 30 or 40 years,” says Graff, “is that a sustainable system over a long period of time? That’s the question that we’re going to have to ask ourselves fairly soon. We need to have an adult conversation in this country around the issue of what does retirement mean.”
U.S. Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.)
U.S. Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.) is an active supporter of improving America’s retirement savings, having sponsored legislation in 2010 that promoted automatic enrollment in individual retirement accounts for those who don’t have access to employer-sponsored 401(k) plans.
Throughout his legislative career, Rep. Neal has trumpeted the virtues of Social Security as the decades-old program’s viability has come under fire. “The genius of Social Security is we all pull the wagon in our youth,” says Rep. Neal, “because we may have to sit in the wagon in our latter years.”
Carl Richards, author of The Behavior Gap, makes his points with simple drawings, plainly describing why it goes against human nature to plan for tomorrow. A financial planner and a contributing writer to The New York Times, Richards has made a career of educating others to be more financially savvy with his sketches, encouraging everyday Americans to “stop doing dumb things with money.”
He illustrates retirement as a see-saw of desires, present vs. future. “We really have to figure out how to put [on] guardrails or automate good behavior because if left to our own devices, we’re all about now,” says Richards.
U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.)
Broken Eggs features exclusive moments with U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, Washington’s high-profile budget broker known for his proposed changes to social programs and cuts in federal spending. The 2012 vice-presidential candidate opens up on camera, telling the next generation of Americans, “We know without a shred of a doubt, you’re going to get a lower standard of living. We know it. Our government is making all these promises to you that we know it can’t keep.”