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Staring at The Eyes of Retirement Crisis

Azwa Ahmad
Azwa-ahmad-pnb-econs-guest-writer
Azwa Ahmad

7 minit masa membaca

Oftentimes when I look at my nenek, I either see her from the perspective of a 5-year-old me, or a 35-year-old me. The former sees her as still strong 50ish woman who takes on the responsibility to care for me, my sibling, and my cousin while our parents work, and the latter sees her as who she is now — a fragile, 80ish old woman who eats so little and her body is getting thinner by days.

retirement woman

When I want to count how long it has been that she lives without my atok, I only have to look at my son and know that it has been eight years since. 

One of fond memories I have about them was this day when my nenek became mad at my atok, and my atok told me “she got mad because my ASB dividend is more than hers, so I gave her all mine.”

Being young I did not know what dividend exactly meant, but I knew it meant money, and I remember smiling at that and thought to myself if this is what love is, that you sacrifice what is yours to make your loved ones happy.

The current me who is older and knows better how the world works thinks that even when my atok is no longer around, he had left enough to protect my nenek for her remaining years without him. 

Poverty is a particular risk for older people as they work less or stop working altogether, and their economic well-being becomes dependent on the availability of public income or family support, savings, and affordable healthcare.

On average in the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development), 12.5% of individuals aged over 65 live in relative income poverty, defined as an income below half the national median equivalized household income.

In 15 out of 35 OECD countries, older people are more vulnerable to being income-poor than the population, with South Korea registering poverty rates of people aged over 65 as high as 40.4%, according to the latest data in 2023.  

Old-age poverty also has a woman’s face, as they tend to have lower pensions while having longer life expectancy than men by nearly six years.

retirement

In most ASEAN economies, given that domestic responsibilities hinder women from taking on full-time jobs, many instead engage in low-wage, unstable, and informal jobs that leave them with limited social protection and financially dependent on their spouses.

This renders them to be more at risk of falling into poverty during their later years. 

So, if you were to ask yourself a question whether you can or can’t retire, which one would be the answer? Then there is also the question if you have hit the retirement age therefore you must retire, can you retire and lead a decent life after?

Malaysia has a national poverty line income (PLI) of RM2,589 and it reflects the minimum income level needed to meet basic living standards in our country, while those with incomes of less than RM1,169 are referred to as the hardcore poor.

The Employees Provident Fund (EPF) has painted a grim picture when it comes to Malaysians’ retirement prospects as it reported in 2022 that more than half under the age of 55 (equivalent to 6.7 million people) have less than RM10,000 in their accounts.

As early as Feb’21, 30% of EPF members had emptied almost all their retirement savings in Account 1 due to Covid withdrawals.

This means that only around 4% of Malaysians can afford to retire, and some fall into poverty at retirement or even before retirement.

To put the PLI level, hardcore poverty income level, and EPF savings level of RM50,000 for those aged between 50 to 54 side-by-side, the latter could only live with less than RM208/month during retirement, spread over 20 years.

This is the mother of all things grim, the retirement ticking time bomb, the retirement crisis that is already here and we are staring straight at its eyes.

Surely one way to address this is by buffing up our savings.

Every ringgit matters. I can name a slew of forces that might act against inculcating savings habits such as YOLO (you only live once), FOMO (fear of missing out), BNPL (Buy Now Pay Later), overconsumption due to social media whatnot that might make us time-inconsistent decision-makers who exhibit present bias – which means we value the present more compared to the future, hence we would act inconsistently with what we know best for our future.

Of course, there are other factors affecting our ability to save more such as rising cost of living, low-income level, and lack of job opportunities, but I would set this aside and focus on the very fact that if we can save more, save more.

Be a time-consistent and future-biased decision-maker instead. As much as I am writing this for you, this also acts as a reminder for myself, first and foremost.

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