How Much Income Do Retirees Actually Have?

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The brief’s key findings are:

  • Recent research has re-documented that the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey (CPS) understates retirement income.
  • Some have wondered if this problem also applies to other surveys and calls into question decades of research that suggest many are ill-prepared for retirement.
  • To answer this question, the analysis compared estimates from five commonly used national surveys to administrative data from the IRS and Social Security.
  • This comparison shows that:
    • the CPS continues to substantially understate retirement income, but
    • the other four surveys – the SCF, HRS, SIPP, and PSID – track closely with administrative data, and
    • estimates of retirement preparedness using a reliable survey find that roughly half of older households may fall short in retirement.