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Approaching retirement

I will work until they throw dirt in my face if I'm capable.

— Robert, Age 62

Where we are

Many older people in the United States struggle to understand when or if they can retire. Difficult decisions and sometimes overwhelming complexities accessing retirement programs make for a stressful transition.

Nearly nine out of ten people aged 65 and older receive Social Security retirement benefits, and Medicare covers nearly 64 million people1. Yet—irrespective of income, education level, and race—navigating the process to claim retirement benefits and enroll in Medicare can be time-consuming, confusing, and complex for new enrollees. For example, people may have to share the same information with several government agencies, while navigating differing age-based eligibility thresholds. If the process feels too overwhelming, individuals may miss out on critical supports for which they are eligible, including financial, housing, and nutrition.

 

The number of Americans 65 and older will increase from about 57 million in 2021 to about 76 million by 2035.
One-third of adults age 65+ are economically insecure

1 Source: CMS Releases Latest Enrollment Figures for Medicare, Medicaid, and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP)

Challenge
How might we improve the retirement experience by addressing barriers to accessing programs that improve financial resiliency, streamline the user experience, and better connect people to support in their decision-making process?


Our approach

To start, we listened to people’s stories.

The Life Experience research team spoke with people nationwide about this moment in their lives and where the government process could have been simpler and more helpful. The listening sessions captured honest conversations about peoples' experiences, candid feedback on what could have worked better, and what really made a difference for them. Their stories have been combined and are represented here through illustrations. The quotes are real, but names have been changed.


Otto
Age 66
Auto mechanic
Married

Josephina
Age 65
Construction worker
Single

Joan
Age 62
Former retail employee
Divorced


Otto
Age 66
Auto mechanic
Married
Lack of accurate information:
Otto has consistently worked throughout his life and remained unsure of whether he would have retirement benefits sufficient to cover his and his wife's expenses. Otto has had difficulty understanding what his retirement benefits will be and whether he should start claiming benefits at 62 or delay as long as possible.
Struggling to cover life expenses: Otto’s income from all sources does not cover all his living expenses during retirement, and he has to make hard decisions about changes.
Barriers to planning: Otto has been concentrating on working to support his family. He is frustrated because he didn’t know what he should be doing to plan for retirement.
“I can’t really think about tomorrow if I have to concentrate on today. It’s so hard day-to-day that I don’t get caught up with what will happen next year as far as income.”
Pain Point
Barriers to saving
Day-to-day struggles make it difficult for many to save for retirement. Many workers do not have access to employer-sponsored retirement accounts.

Josephina
Age 65
Construction worker
Single
Health-related setbacks:
Five years ago, Josephina left the workforce prematurely due to an accident that left her disabled. She receives disability benefits and is struggling with how to plan for her future.
Administrative burden: She does not feel technologically savvy and feels that the benefits application process requires too much paperwork and feels she is navigating a complicated system.
On her own: Josephina feels she has to make long-term health decisions about income, ability to work, financial planning, and health without trusted guidance to inform her decisions. This complex system causes Josephina stress and difficulty in accessing government services available to her.
“You can’t figure out who to trust, it’s too much. I can’t imagine people who didn’t have professional skills, jobs, or education. You’ve got to do something to alleviate that whole system. How do you find out what’s right for you and who to trust?”
Pain Point
Disjointed network
People are on their own to make sense of an opaque and fragmented retirement landscape.

Joan
Age 62
Former retail employee
Divorced
Knowing when to claim benefits:
Joan was laid off and felt forced to claim Social Security spousal benefits early since she could not find another full-time job. She felt that ageism was a factor in her experience seeking work.
Understanding how to access information about retirement benefit eligibility: Joan spent much of her middle age caring for her family full time and had limited time in the paid workforce. She struggles to understand her eligibility for retirement benefits.
Access to accurate information: Joan seeks advice from friends, family, and other seniors living in her building to make retirement decisions rather than seeking information from government programs. She needs to work to cover her expenses and would benefit from understanding programs protecting older workers from age discrimination and learning what programs can assist individuals joining the workforce.
“I met a guy who was a [ride-share] driver. I would ride with him to work and he told me he helped people with their retirement. He gave me his business card. I gave him a call.”
Pain Point
Lack of knowledge and equitable access
Barriers to accessing benefits information and services hurt people’s ability to plan for their financial security and receive the benefits they have earned.

 

Throughout the three-month discovery, the team collaborated across four agencies to perform primary and secondary research analysis around the approaching retirement experience. Of the 42 seniors who participated in listening sessions, diverse representation included 14 couples, 25 women, 18 persons of color, 7 widowed, and 7 high school educated.

The team spoke with:

  • 42 seniors
  • 40 Medicare and Social Security experts

Discovery insights

Framing for collective thinking about customer pain points

How might we improve access to tools and knowledge that help remove barriers to financially preparing for retirement, especially for people in underserved communities?

How might we ease the transition to retirement by streamlining the user experience and better connecting people to accurate support to aid their decision making?

How might we provide equitable access to available resources to help seniors recover from employment setbacks and to increase financial security by ensuring individuals understand the benefits and programs available to them?

Next steps

Teams are currently working on identifying and scoping projects to move into the design phase. Please check back on this page in the coming months for updates.

Project Documentation

Agency collaborators

  • General Services Administration
  • Department of Labor
  • Department of Housing and Urban Development
  • Department of Agriculture
  • Office of Management and Budget
  • Department of Health & Human Services
  • U.S. Department of the Treasury
  • Social Security Administration
  • Consumer Finance Protection Bureau