The stock market is often blamed for causing the depletion of so many retirement accounts, among older workers and younger, but I think such an explanation is very overstated. The US. stock market in 2012 is higher than it was in 2007 so workers who remained invested during this period (and especially those who invested at lower levels during the fall) should have lost very little and more likely, have gained.
One variable that has had an influence on the ability to save among older Americans is the increasing willingness to hold debt, including the deadliest type of debt out there, credit card debt. Recent Census data reported that more than a third of seniors have a mortgage (compared to just 20% in 1990), as well as an average of more than $10,000 in credit card debt. Holding such levels of credit debt is somewhat understandable among younger families who are more likely dealing with student loans, college costs and growing families, but it flashes warning signals to older Americans. Essentially, it signals to a retiree or a worker close to retirement, an inability to live within his or her means. And the high interest paid nearly ensures that savings will be difficult and cash flow will be strained.
These statistics, along with the underlying stories of so many millions of retirees struggling through retirement, should be wake-up calls to younger Americans who still have time on their side. If younger workers don't want to be forced to take jobs they don't want to during retirement and if they want to have control of their financial lives during retirement, savings will be the key. And a cornerstone to an effective savings plan is the elimination of reduction of debt, particularly non-mortgage debt. Until that happens, financial planning and retirement planning will be less effective and retirement itself will likely be a stressful and risky endeavor.