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U.S. Is a 'Top 20' Retirement Country -- But Barely

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Study after study bears out the sentiment that Americans are having a hard time saving for retirement.

The Washington, D.C-based National Institute On Retirement Security says the typical American family has only a "few thousand dollars saved for retirement" and notes that 45% of U.S. working-age households, or 38 million of them, don't have any retirement assets at all.

"Our findings confirm that the American Dream of retiring comfortably after a lifetime of work will be impossible for many," says Nari Rhee, NIRS' manager of research. "Based on 401(k)-type account and IRA balances alone, some 92% of working households do not meet conservative retirement savings targets for their age and income. Even when counting their entire net worth, 65% still fall short."

That is starting to take its toll on America's long-standing image as a standard-of-living powerhouse.

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A report from Boston's Natixis Global Asset Management scored the country 19th among 150 developed countries, due partly to weaker "economic stability" and "persistent income inequality."

It's not just the U.S. Tough economic conditions across the globe are making it more difficult for people to retire, and increasingly they seem ill-equipped to even make a decent stab at improving their long-term financial picture.

"The responsibility for financial security in retirement is falling even more heavily on individuals than ever before, and this trend is likely to continue as government resources become more scarce," says John T. Hailer, chief executive of Natixis. "It is becoming increasingly apparent that to ensure financial security in retirement, individuals need to set personal goals and view planning and saving for retirement as a serious, conscious and strategic pursuit."

For Americans, higher health care costs are part of what holds back retirement savers. The study notes that "despite ranking sixth-highest in per capita income, the U.S. ranks first in per capita health care expenditures, yet 33rd for life expectancy and relatively low (81st) for income inequality."

Natixis says it takes a three-pronged approach, from government, employers and individuals, to catch up on retirement savings. Government and private industry need to make retirement savings simpler and more accessible for Americans, and individuals need to take a more hands-on approach to their retirement savings.

"Investors need to think of risk first as they set personal goals and build durable, diversified portfolios," Hailer says. "This approach can help them manage short-term volatility while they pursue long-term growth, and will help keep them invested through a variety of market cycles in order to realize their full savings potential."

Of the "Top 20" retirement countries, Switzerland, Norway (No. 1 last year), Austria, Sweden and Australia make up the five best nations for financial security in retirement.

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