$3,000! That's all the typical household has saved for retirement?

Hand showing empty pocket

We all knew that the retirement crisis was bad, but a new study shows that the savings shortfall is simply shocking.

When all U.S. working-age families are counted, the typical household has only $3,000 saved for retirement, according to a study from the National Institute on Retirement Security (NIRS), a nonprofit research and education organization.

In order to broadly determine how we're doing in relation to financial firms' recommended retirement savings targets, NIRS used the Federal Reserve's Survey of Consumer Finances to analyze not only retirement plan participation but savings and overall assets of U.S. households ages 25 to 64.

The study found that a staggering four out of five working families have retirement savings less than one times their annual income.

Financial advisers typically tell their clients they'll need 11 to 12 times their yearly pay to retire comfortably at 65.

And overall, around 45% of working-age households lack any retirement account assets.

Our shortage of savings has put the U.S. retirement savings deficit between $6.8 trillion and $14 trillion.

We could be in for a couple of generations of extraordinarily impoverished seniors if we don't act soon.

According to Interest.com's recent retirement income study today's seniors make only 57% of what working, pre-retirement households earn.

I'd hate to think that number would decline, but without more savings it almost certainly will.

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It seems the American Dream of retiring comfortably isn’t even within reach for many, and there's mounting evidence suggesting that it's unrealistic to expect Americans to save for their own retirement.

Based only on 401(k) and IRA data, around 92% of working households aren't meeting conservative savings targets for their age and income, notes the NIRS study.

Even if you count their total net worth, 65% are short of the goal line.

What's to blame?

There's no doubt that two recessions and a sluggish economic recovery have played a part.

Diane Oakley, NIRS executive director, points out in a press release that employers have dialed back on workplace retirement plans and that many households have struggled to save in the midst of higher living expenses and stagnant wages.

If something isn't done to boost our ability to save, we're in for a dire future.

"We can expect substantial increases in public assistance costs, and even greater demands on strained families and social service organizations, to help older Americans who just can’t make it on their own,” Oakley says.

What can we do?

The NIRS suggests strengthening Social Security, expanding access to low-cost and high-quality retirement plans and making the Saver's Credit, a little known tax break, refundable.

But counting on any help out of Washington, where conservatives are clamoring to cut Social Security, is probably unrealistic.

We're on our own until the political winds change, and that means there's only one thing we can do — figure out ways to put more money into our 401(k)s and IRAs.