By Chris Adams

Americans are living longer. But they are retiring earlier.

And that means a major challenge for society in funding a retirement system that has gone from centralized to decentralized.

That’s just one of the challenges to providing for the nation’s retirement, according to Andrew Eschtruth, an expert at the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College. He’s also co-author of “Falling Short: The Coming Retirement Crisis and What to Do About It.”

Eschtruth led National Press Foundation fellows through an overview of the retirement system and how it has changed over the past half century. Overall, he said, more than half of workers analyzed are in financial danger, according to the center’s “National Retirement Risk Index.”

That measure shows if people will fall significantly short in producing enough income in retirement to maintain their pre-retirement standard of living.

“People are going to need more money – but they also face challenges in what they will get from traditional sources,” such as pensions, he said.

One of the main reasons is the length of an average person’s career and of their life. Pointing to a chart comparing working years and lifespans, Eschtruth noted, “The size of the gap between those two lines is widening.”

By 2020, both men and women who make it to 65 can expect to live into their mid-80s, he said.

Other factors are increasing retiree health care costs; rock-bottom interest rates, which reduces what people get from their nest eggs; a wholesale change in the nation’s employer-based retirement system; and the fact that – even under existing law – the Social Security system will replace a shrinking share of pre-retirement earnings.

The Boston College center has a range of other resources to track private and public pensions, public attitudes about their financial status, and a database of federal forms that pension plans and companies file to document their fiscal health.