WASHINGTON ( TheStreet) -- A glaring lack of retirement preparation within the U.S. Hispanic community could contribute to a national crisis.

That's one of the conclusions drawn by a study released yesterday by the nonprofit Hispanic Institute and the advocacy group Americans for Secure Retirement. Its research uncovered a sweeping lack of retirement planning, less access to employer-sponsored retirement plans, lower levels of personal savings and inadequate financial literacy.

Only 41% of Hispanic workers say they save for retirement and a mere 26% of the group is covered by employer-sponsored retirement plans, compared to 43% of whites and 40% of African-Americans. Of Hispanics collecting Social Security, almost 80% say these benefits make up at least half of their incomes.

Many Hispanics hold low-paying, service jobs with employers who are less likely to offer retirement plans, the study says. Lower wages mean that living expenses take priority over savings. In 2006, the average per capita income for Hispanics was $14,736 compared to $27,951 for non-Hispanics.

Participation rates have been an overlooked concern, in part because Hispanics are younger than the U.S. population overall. The median age for Hispanics is 27 years old, compared to 39 for non-Hispanic whites and 36 years for the U.S. as a whole, according to the study.

The group, however, will age and its presence will grow. The U.S. Census Bureau projects the number of Hispanics in the U.S. to go from 48 million to 132 million by 2050, accounting for nearly 30% of all Americans.

This coming influx of ill-prepared retirees is likely to live longer. Hispanic men who were 65 in 2005 are expected to live to 85, compared to 81 for American men overall. Hispanic women are projected to live to 88, compared to 85 for all women in the U.S.

The impact of these converging issues may not reach crisis levels until 2050, when the bulk of working-age Hispanics hit retirement. But it's still a cause for concern now.

"If they don't have the savings and the support they need, you are going to have a lot of people retiring into poverty," says Arnoldo Mata, the study's author. "Either we address some of those issues now, through education and regulatory reform, and we allow them to prepare for it or taxpayers are going to pick up that cost."

A crucial issue to resolve is the large number of Hispanics who are "unbanked," Mata says. Immigrants make up more than 40% of the population, and many come from countries with unstable banking systems. As a result, many Hispanics distrust banks and rely on cash.

"Younger people don't have the family tradition of their parents using banks, so they in turn don't use them either," Mata says.

The impending crisis might encourage companies like Bank of America ( BAC), Citigroup ( C), Fidelity and T. Rowe Price ( TROW) to work harder to attract Hispanic customers.

Education, outreach and the support of employers is vital, Mata says.

"One of the great things about saving for retirement though your employer is that they bring in all these people who help you and give you information," he says. "It makes it so much easier and everything is pulled out of your check."

-- Reported by Joe Mont in Boston.

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