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More Retirement Planning Is Needed

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WASHINGTON, the corporate sector, and the American public need to focus greater attention on retirement planning (including the politically controversial issue of long-term health care), as the nation's population continues to grow older, say a number of experts on aging and retirement. Yet, many retirement experts add, most individual retirement plans - when they exist at all - are based mainly on social security benefits and traditional passbook savings accounts. Little thought is given to the life style of retirees - or the need for special long-term health care.

``But what we're discovering is that retirement, or growing older, is a different animal altogether than just involving money,'' says Kay Wright, a corporate training specialist with the American Association of Retired Persons in Washington. AARP is a public-interest group representing retired or older Americans.

``Retirement,'' says Ms. Wright, ``involves the use of time, programs designed to aid persons who need special care, as well as actually going back to work.'' Wright says one-third of AARP's 30 million members would like part-time work. ``Most formal corporate retirement programs, however, are based on trying to help people out the door.''

The need for a long-range evaluation of retirement planning has been underscored by several new reports released in recent weeks:

A study by Merrill Lynch & Co. finds that most Americans still do not prepare for retirement adequately; there is a major gap between what workers expect from their retirement years and what they will be able to afford. The lack of realistic planning is shared by corporations. Only about a quarter of all benefits managers at major corporations, for example, say the cost of long-term care is or will be part of company planning during the next five years. Two-thirds of the companies studied do not plan to provide long-term care programs.

Moreover, the study found, most pre-retirees invest in traditional savings plans such as passbook accounts. These are not suited to offset inflation or rising health-care costs, and are invariably inadequate for long-term health-care needs.

One-fifth of the employees studied say they have done little or no retirement planning. Such findings represent a ``warning flag'' about the inadequacy of current retirement planning in the United States, says John Steffens, president of Merrill Lynch Consumer Markets.

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