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Confident of their place in the sun

Study finds that those who retired to Florida are optimistic about their finances while the state's workers struggle to build their own nest eggs.

By HELEN HUNTLEY
Published May 7, 2003

Florida retirees are feeling confident about their financial futures, but the state's workers are not faring so well in preparing for theirs, according to a study released Tuesday.

"People who have done the planning and come down to Florida are living on the backs of workers who won't necessarily be able to take care of themselves and enjoy the same lifestyle as those who came in from out of state," said Don Blandin, president of the American Savings Education Council, an arm of the Employee Benefit Research Institute in Washington, D.C.

He said the lower wages and benefits Florida workers receive are a bonus for retirees, who benefit from a lower cost of living, but make it more difficult for workers to save. Florida workers are less likely to participate in employer-sponsored retirement plans than those in any other state. Only 35 percent of all Florida workers have a job-based retirement plan, compared to 43 percent nationally.

The Florida Retirement Confidence Survey released Tuesday compares the retirement outlook of Floridians with that of their counterparts nationwide. It was based on a telephone survey conducted in February and was sponsored by the council, the institute and the research company Mathew Greenwald & Associates.

For those who are already retired, the picture is one of relative optimism. A whopping 86 percent of the state's retirees are confident that they are doing a good job preparing financially for their futures, compared with 75 percent nationwide.

Florida retirees are more likely to have saved for retirement and are less likely to be worried about outliving their money. Their most pessimistic scores reflect some concern about their ability to pay for long-term care if they need it. Although 81 percent said they are "very" or "somewhat" confident that they have enough money to live comfortably throughout retirement, only 60 percent expressed the same confidence about being able to pay for long-term care.

Florida retirees also consider themselves more knowledgeable about investing and saving than their retiree counterparts nationally.

For workers, it's a different story.

Florida workers are about as confident about their financial futures as those nationally - 69 percent of both groups think they are doing a good job preparing financially for retirement. However, only 56 percent said they are currently saving for retirement, compared with 62 percent nationally.

"We think there is some false confidence out there," Blandin said. One indication: 59 percent of Florida workers think that once retired, they will be able to meet their living expenses on less than 70 percent of their current incomes. Blandin said surveys of retirees show they need more than 85 percent of their pre-retirement incomes to maintain their lifestyles.

In addition, 23 percent of Florida workers think they will need less than $250,000 in savings for retirement, while only 15 percent of workers nationally think that will be adequate.

At the same time, 11 percent of Florida workers say they never plan to retire while two-thirds said they expect to work for pay after they retire. Blandin said those expectations may not be realistic.

He wants Florida workers to get the message that they need to save if they don't want to be poor in retirement.

"We do two things that are dangerous - we overestimate how much we're going to get from sources like Social Security and we underestimate how long we're going to live," Blandin said.

The council, along with the Social Security Administration, launched its "Save for Your Future" campaign in Florida on Tuesday. Brochures on retirement planning will be available on the Internet (www.saveforyourfuture.org) and in Social Security offices. One objective is to get people to use their annual Social Security benefits estimate as a starting point for retirement planning.

- Helen Huntley can be reached at huntley@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8230.

[Last modified May 7, 2003, 09:01:23]

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