When I read tales like yours, I think about Georgialee Rodgers, a woman I interviewed several years ago in Lincoln, Nebraska. She was one of Sen. Bob Kerrey’s constituents. At the time, Kerrey was pushing to privatize Social Security, which would turn Rodgers, who earned $17,000 a year working fifty hours managing a Gas ‘N’ Shop, into an investor. She told me the $6000 in her employer’s 401(k) plan was invested in growth and emerging growth stocks. An investment adviser advised that the stocks would always go up. I asked her what would happen if they went down. “Nobody told me that,” she replied. My guess is that Rodgers, who would now be 66, is trying to make ends meet on a meager Social Security check.

Joe, your predicament is instructive and humbling; and it shows what can happen when things don’t work out the way Fidelity said they would. Perhaps, as your source Teresa Ghilarducci pointed out, it’s time to rethink 401(k)s especially considering all this talk about cutting Social Security benefits. Thanks for writing the column.

All best,

Trudy

Trudy Lieberman is a fellow at the Center for Advancing Health and a longtime contributing editor to the Columbia Journalism Review. She is the lead writer for The Second Opinion, CJR’s healthcare desk, which is part of our United States Project on the coverage of politics and policy. Follow her on Twitter @Trudy_Lieberman.