Not Their Fault

Richard Quinn

“THE REALITY IS THAT most working Americans will continue to struggle to achieve retirement security because the ownership of financial assets is highly concentrated among the wealthiest,” wrote Dan Doonan, executive director of the National Institute on Retirement Security, for

I read and re-read that statement, especially the word “because.” It seems Doonan has concluded that the great wealth held by the top 1% somehow inhibits the rest of us from saving and investing. How can that be true? It can’t be unless there’s a finite pool of assets to be had and only a few have grabbed them.

The fact that many Americans are not saving for retirement, are not financially literate and choose to place short-term wants ahead of long-term goals is indeed a problem. But it isn’t one created by America’s billionaires. In fact, considering the jobs and opportunities created by many of the super-wealthy, I’d argue that the opposite is true.

I played a game of “what if” and looked at where I would be financially if I’d made modest investments in the early days of Microsoft, Apple, Amazon and a few others.  With $100 here and $1,000 there, plus years of stock splits and dividends, I’d be well ensconced in the top 1% and I’d be booking a world cruise (but maybe not this year).

Like most people, I wasn’t savvy enough or a big enough risk-taker to grab those rewards. But the opportunity was there. On the other hand, like tens of millions of other Americans, I did fund my 401(k) and IRA. I bought a few stocks and bonds, and I reinvested my dividends and interest payments. I did this in small increments over many years and, during all those years, I never gave a thought to how others were accumulating billions—but I did enjoy using my iPhone, getting bargains via Amazon, and maybe someday I’ll help the environment and buy a Tesla.

There are some Americans, perhaps 20% or so, who live pretty much paycheck-to-paycheck and struggle to cover life’s necessities. But for the majority, there’s opportunity to amass wealth. That ability to do so has nothing to do with the level of wealth of any other American.

A year ago, I wrote about ways most of us can save money and accumulate wealth. A little earlier, I wrote about setting priorities for spending the money we have. In both cases, it boils down to the choices we make. For most Americans, there’s simply no excuse for failing to save enough for retirement.

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