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Major Financial Challenges Facing Americans Looking Toward Retirement: GAO Issues Capstone Report on Federal Government's Role

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Oct, 18, 2017) — The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) today issued a new report on the major challenges facing Americans as the retiree population grows. “The Nation’s Retirement System: A Comprehensive Re-evaluation Is Needed to Better Promote Future Retirement Security details the issues facing the nation’s retirement system and the need to reexamine how the United States ensures retirement security for its citizens.

"The nation’s retirement system is made up of three main pillars, but fundamental changes have occurred over the past 40 years,” said Gene L. Dodaro, Comptroller General of the United States and head of the GAO. Dodaro explained that those three pillars—Social Security, employer-sponsored pensions or retirement savings plans, and individual savings—have all seen changes. “This has made it increasingly difficult for individuals to plan for and effectively manage retirement. In particular, there has been a marked shift away from defined benefit to defined contribution plans as the primary type of retirement plan offered by private sector employers, which has increased the responsibility and risk for individuals’ retirement security. Also, economic and societal trends—such as increases in debt and health care costs—have occurred that can impede individuals’ ability to save for retirement.” Finally, Dodaro said, when it comes to Social Security, beginning in 2035, projections are that it will be unable to pay full benefits.

“Long-term fiscal projections show that, absent fiscal policy changes, the federal government is on an unsustainable fiscal path, largely due to spending increases driven largely by health care programs, demographic changes, and net interest on government debt,” Dodaro said. “It has been nearly 40 years since there has been a comprehensive federal evaluation of the nation’s approach to financing retirement and the time has come for a new examination.”

GAO’s report focuses on four areas:

  • changes in the traditional pillars of the U.S. retirement system—Social Security, employer-sponsored pensions or retirement savings plans, and individual savings—along with economic and societal trends, such as rising debt and health care costs, that have made it difficult for Americans to plan for and manage retirement
  • key challenges individuals face in achieving a financially secure retirement, such as accessing retirement plans through employers, accumulating adequate retirement savings, and ensuring that savings and benefits last through retirement
  • fiscal risks and benefit adequacy concerns that threaten the central elements of the U.S. retirement system
  • the need for a comprehensive reevaluation of the nation’s approach to financing retirement, one that will address the impact of recent economic trends and the introduction of new financial products

For more information, contact Chuck Young, Managing Director of Public Affairs, at (202) 512-4800.


The Government Accountability Office, known as the investigative arm of Congress, is an independent, nonpartisan agency that exists to support Congress in meeting its constitutional responsibilities. GAO also works to improve the performance of the federal government and ensure its accountability to the American people. The agency examines the use of public funds; evaluates federal programs and policies; and provides analyses, recommendations, and other assistance to help Congress make informed oversight, policy, and funding decisions. GAO provides Congress with timely information that is objective, fact-based, nonideological, fair, and balanced. GAO’s commitment to good government is reflected in its core values of accountability, integrity, and reliability.

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