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Many American workers are financially unprepared for retirement. But there are stark differences when you take race and ethnicity into account. Half of white households have less than $10,000 in retirement savings; about 50 percent, that is. But for Latino households it's just over 80 percent, four out of five households.

NPR's Hansi Lo Wang has this report for our series on Rethinking Retirement.

JOSEPH LEITMANN-SANTA CRUZ: Good morning, everybody.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENTS: Good morning.

HANSI LO WANG, BYLINE: It's Saturday morning in a packed classroom at the Latino Economic Development Center in Washington, D.C.

LEITMANN-SANTA CRUZ: And I'm really interested in having a two-way conversation...

WANG: And Joseph Leitmann-Santa Cruz is about to make a pitch.

LEITMANN-SANTA CRUZ: You are specifically focusing on homeownership and home buying. But before you do that, always be aware that there are multiple objectives that we all need to be aware of.

WANG: Including saving for retirement, says Leitmann-Santa Cruz, a former private wealth manager.

LEITMANN-SANTA CRUZ: We need to get into the mentality of relying less on what can be provided by others and fully relying on what I can provide for myself.

WANG: Leitmann-Santa Cruz emigrated from Guatemala as a teenager. Now, he works with low and moderate-income families to manage money for their education, small businesses and retirement. Planning for that last goal can be difficult for families of color, especially Latinos.

NARI RHEE: This is a national crisis. But on the other hand, I think that there are serious racial dimensions to this.

WANG: This is Nari Rhee.

RHEE: And I'm the manager of research at the National Institute on Retirement Security.

WANG: Her recent report found that Latino workers face two main hurdles to saving for retirement. First, they earn less. And second, they're the group least likely to have access to retirement plans at work.

RHEE: You know, there's racial disparity in workplace retirement plan access. But when you start to look at the amount that people have saved, that inequality is much, much greater.

WANG: Rhee says part of the problem is that many Latino workers are in low-wage jobs in the private sector.

RHEE: Without access to workplace retirement savings and with not a lot of other kinds of wealth, what's left really for most people is Social Security.

MARY ANN BORER: We still haven't gotten too far beyond living paycheck-to-paycheck.

WANG: Mary Ann Borer was born in San Antonio, Texas, the great granddaughter of immigrants from Mexico. She works at a nonprofit outside of Los Angeles, and a small portion of her paycheck does go to a retirement plan. But the 38-year-old single mother of two says she's worried about whether she'll have enough savings by the time she retires.

BORER: I'll probably have to, you know, rely on my kids the way my mother does. My mother lived with me for many years and she lives with my sister now. So I figure that's probably what I'll have to do, as well. I'll have to, you know, live with my kids.

SONIA ROMO: My name is Sonia Romo.

WANG: Fifty-one year old Sonia Romo works at vegetable packing plant. And she attended a financial literacy course at the Mexican American Opportunity Foundation, a nonprofit based outside L.A. She was born in Mexico and is the mother of three, two in college.

ROMO: (Foreign language spoken)

WANG: I can't depend on them entirely, she says. I know they're going to help me, but I want to prepare for my retirement. That's why I want to keep working.

Conversations between children and their aging parents about retirement can be tricky, says Edna Becerra. She works at that L.A. nonprofit and speaks from her own experience as the eldest daughter of Mexican immigrants.

EDNA BECERRA: It's a source of tension, a source of friction. And my father, especially, is still very proud and says that he doesn't want to be a burden on anybody and refuses to toy with the idea of moving in with either my sister or myself.

WANG: Becerra, who's 34, adds that younger Latinos like herself often have to financially prepare for not only their own retirement but also their parents. And even if immigrant elders don't want financial advice, she says it's still important to pass it on.

BECERRA: Not everybody tends to listen but you hope that they do. And you do it with the understanding that if they don't prepare, you, at the end of the day, don't leave anybody behind.

WANG: Falling behind in retirement savings can have critical long-term implications for Latinos, who have a life expectancy of about eighty-one years old. That's longer than whites and blacks.

Hansi Lo Wang, NPR News.

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