But that didn't stop online investment advisory firm FutureAdvisor from asking how well people around the country are doing in saving for retirement. Its state-by-state breakdown sheds some light on where people are getting ahead, and where they're falling behind.
For its analysis, FutureAdvisor looked at figures from the beginning of 2008 to the beginning of 2011. That period includes one of the worst years ever in stock market history, as well as two subsequent years of impressive gains that helped the S&P 500 cut its 2008 losses and post a cumulative total loss of about 8%.
On average, 401(k) participants saw gains of 28% in their account balances nationwide. Mississippi led the way with a more than 80% increase in average account size, while Delaware topped the 50% mark. In total, 16 states posted at least 30% growth, and only Alaska, Nebraska, and South Dakota gained less than 10% over the period.
Who Saves More: Red vs. Blue
Interestingly, the study discovered that blue states tended to have higher average account balances than red states. But red-state balances grew at a slightly faster pace than those in blue states.
When you look at just swing states, Wisconsin, Iowa, and New Hampshire all fall more than $5,000 above the average balance, while Virginia and Ohio also managed to top the average. Florida was the big outlier on the negative side, with balances on average about $7,000 below the national average, while Colorado and North Carolina also lagged behind the nation as a whole.
Regional differences in wealth are hard to quantify, especially with costs of living differing around the country. But the good news from the study is that people around the country have seen their 401(k) balances rise over the past four years.
If you'd asked people back then if they thought it likely that they'd recover all their losses and then some in just a few years, they would likely have scoffed, but that's just a testament to the power of long-term investing.