On April 17, Chad Parks, the founder and CEO of The Online 401(k) embarked on a six-week, 6,000-mile journey across the U.S. to raise awareness about the impending retirement crisis.
Parks (left), along with two cinematographers and two screenwriters are traveling from San Francisco to New York to interview Americans from all walks of life about their retirement saving habits and knowledge of retirement savings. The responses will be compiled into a documentary called “Broken Eggs: The Looming Retirement Crisis in America.”
“We’ve gone into this without any expectations. We don’t know how it will end up. We are speaking to so many people it will be eye opening to find out their needs and concerns. We are really trying to [humanize] this issue,” Parks said. “It is not about the nuts and bolts of pension plans, actuaries and 401(k)s but people’s quality of life. It will be interesting to see.”
The team also will interview experts about their perspectives about what is going on in the retirement industry now and their predictions for the future.
The Online 401(k) works in the small business retirement space. Part of Parks’ motivation for filming the documentary is to help people make sense of all the information floating around about pensions, the future of Social Security and the problems with 401(k) plans.
Parks has studied what he calls the three-legged stool of retirement for years: pensions, Social Security and 401(k)s. The biggest problem he sees is that two of the three legs—pensions and Social Security—are disappearing. That leaves only 401(k)s and IRAs to pick up the slack, and many people believe that those retirement vehicles won’t be enough to bring people safely through retirement.
Only about 50 percent of Americans have access to a retirement savings account at work, Parks said, so more needs to be done to encourage businesses—especially small businesses—to offer employees a retirement savings option. More education also needs to be done at all levels so people realize how important retirement savings is to their future.
The retirement industry has been hit with the perfect storm, Parks said, with 10,000 Baby Boomers retiring a day. “How does that affect the macroeconomic system? Do they have enough to live on? Have they saved enough? Most say they will continue to work into retirement, which is fine if you have an employer or a job to employ you,” he said. “The bigger picture is that all of these people are retiring, which will have a macroeconomic effect on the stock market and workers in general. If they don’t have any earning ability, they are going to hoard.”
On the macro scale that means these people are moving their retirement savings to the bond market and selling off their stake in equities because they are not looking for growth anymore. “Demand for equities is going to go down and prices are going to go down. The demand for fixed income [will go] up so yields go down,” he said.
The U.S. economy was built on people’s ability to spend, he said. “What are we going to do if people are not spending? … Never in modern society has such a large group of people moved through this status in their lives and had such a massive effect. We don’t know what is going to happen, but we can speculate,” he said.
The purpose of the documentary is to examine retirement from the human standpoint instead of from a technical one, he said.
“We want to offer some hope and some solutions. We don’t pretend to know the solutions ourselves, but we are hoping to discover them,” Parks said. He and his team will be using social media to make the journey interactive. People can follow along on the documentary’s website, www.brokeneggsfilm.com, and offer up their own ideas and potential solutions.
“From there, we can cull through thousands of submissions and see what the collective consciousness believes the solution should be. We’ll take that to Washington,” he said.
The documentary crew will visit Utah, Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, Texas, Louisiana, Tennessee, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, New York and Washington, D.C. The film is expected to be released on 401(k) Day in September 2012.