By Dolores Kong
The Boston Globe

Retirement dreams of playing golf all day or driving
across the country in a Winnebago may remain just that
- dreams - for millions of Americans.

Many people ages 50 and over are not saving enough
money and will have to continue working to support
themselves after they reach the traditional retirement
age, suggests a study by the nation's largest group
representing retirees.

At the same time, old-fashioned company pensions are
less common and Social Security is more at risk than
in previous generations, placing many current and
soon-to-be retirees in a tenuous position.

"For people at the bottom, there's been very little
progress and a lot of slippage over the last 20
years," said John Rother, AARP's director of
legislation and public policy.

"They are looking at retirement with none of the
pieces in place and will really have no option but to
try to continue to work or rely on the safety-net

And while Americans in the middle- and upper-income
brackets are doing better than their parents in
preparing for retirement, many will need to worry
about spiraling health costs, and perhaps even
continuing to get a paycheck, Rother said.
The findings in the report, "Beyond 50: A Report to
the Nation on Economic Security," has AARP so
concerned it is changing its decades- old advice for a
secure retirement.

Instead of recommending the traditional "three-legged
stool" of Social Security, pension, and savings, AARP
is pushing the "four pillars": Social Security,
pension and savings, health insurance, and earnings.

"The three-legged stool has been a fixture in the way
we've talked to people about retirement probably for
30 years," said Rother, in an interview yesterday. "As
we're looking at it now, it doesn't seem appropriate

Pension and savings, once two legs of the three-legged
stool, were combined into one pillar in recognition of
the fact that pensions in the form of 401(k)s are
increasingly the same as personal savings, Rother

AARP changed its name from the American Association of
Retired Persons last year to just the initials, to
better reflect its membership of 35 million Americans
age 50 and over. Some are retired, and some are not.

The 90-page "Beyond 50" report, an analysis of data
from a variety of sources, contains such eye-opening
statistics as:
Four in 10 Americans over age 60 will experience
poverty at some point in their later years.

Low-income Americans ages 50 to 61 have median net
worth of about $6,500, counting home equity, 401(k)s
and other assets.
Lack of health insurance for people 50 to 64 has
increased, with the percentage of those without it
ranging from just under 6 percent to over 30 percent
in 2000, depending on income.

The proportion of men and women working at age 65 and
beyond is on the rise, reversing what had been a
downward trend since the early 1900s.

The report also contains some good news: Older
Americans are healthier and better educated than their
parents, and poverty among the elderly has dropped to
a record low.

The report comes just as the first baby boomers are
turning 55 this year, with trend-watchers expecting
the boomers to redefine retirement.

Some specialists say the traditional notion of
retirement never really applied to many older
Americans, and neither did the notion of relying on
just Social Security, pension, and savings.

"Old age is not something where you sit on the porch
in your rocker and rock the rest of your life away,"
said Ken McDonnell, an economist and research analyst
with the Employee Benefit Research Institute, a
Washington-based nonprofit.

Whether out of financial need or boredom, many older
Americans continue to work, McDonnell said. And with
life expectancies of 100 not out of the question in
the future, "if you retire at age 65 and live another
35 years - that's a long time period. How are you
going to afford such a thing? How is society going to
afford such a thing?" asked McDonnell.

"I have argued . . . we shouldn't even use the word
`retirement'," agreed Joseph F. Quinn, dean of Boston
College's College of Arts and Sciences and a
researcher who has studied the phased retirement
phenomenon known as "bridge jobs."

Quinn added, "A lot of people have argued that the
concept of a three-legged stool has not made sense.
People on the lower end are often missing two of the
legs - no savings, no home - and many Americans have
no pension coverage."

For that reason, Quinn called AARP's new
recommendation "good advice." To some Massachusetts
residents age 50 and over, AARP's findings and
recommendation are no surprise.

While retirees Charles F. Moriarty of Danvers and
Nancy Geiser of the Boston suburbs say they aren't
working now, they worry about health care costs even
though they've got Medicare.

"I have a big health problem, severe arthritis," said
Geiser, 67, who has dipped into savings more than
planned because Social Security and pension are not

Carole Shaw, 52, owner of Victorian Fineries, a crafts
business in Worcester, and Jack Agnew, 65, a founder
of Agnew Carter-MS&L Public Relations in Boston,
expect to work beyond the traditional retirement age.

For Shaw, it's the finances. "I can't imagine being
able to stop at retirement age."

For Agnew, it's the desire to keep busy. "I look at
retirement - even though I don't like to use the R
word - as a real phased thing."