GAO: Roughly Half of Older Americans Have No Retirement Savings

An updated GAO report shows that almost half of households 55 and up have no retirement savings.

According to an updated report from the Government Accountability Office, almost half of American households aged 55 and up have no retirement savings.

GAO released its revised report at the request of Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) which was an update to a report it had previously released in 2015.

Although the news is not good, it is actually an improvement over the findings from the 2015 report. The previous report was based on 2013 Survey of Consumer Finances data from the Federal Reserve; the new report is based on 2016 data.

As the table below from the GAO report shows, 29% of households 55 and up have no savings at all and no pension plan. 20% have no savings but a pension plan, and 48% have no retirement savings. The table also shows how the latest data compare to data from GAO’s previous report.

Percentage of Households Aged 55 and Over with Selected Financial Resources

Household financial resources 2013 2016
No retirement savings 52 48
No retirement savings and no defined benefit (DB) plana 29 29
A DB plan but no retirement savings 23 20
Retirement savings but no DB plan 23 26
Retirement savings and a DB plana 25 26
Source: GAO analysis of 2013 and 2016 Survey of Consumer Finances. | GAO-19-442R
Note: All estimates have 95 percent confidence intervals of within 2 percentage points of the estimate.
a The change from 2013 to 2016 was not statistically significant.

Not everyone is buying the GAO report, however.

American Enterprise Institute columnist Andrew Biggs said that the figures are misleading because they exclude pensions.

“If we count both retirement accounts and traditional pensions, 72% of households aged 55 and over have retirement savings. That’s up from only 64% in 1989 – so things are getting better, not worse,” wrote Biggs.

About the Author

Ian Smith is one of the co-founders of He has over 20 years of combined experience in media and government services, having worked at two government contracting firms and an online news and web development company prior to his current role at FedSmith.