EXPERTS ARE WORRIED that as the economy is looking so healthy, there is a tendency to forget the need to save for retirement. If populations don't save enough, they won't have disposable income and therefore may put shopping centers and the related industries in jeopardy.

According to the Federal Reserve, the citizens of the United States in the first quarter of 2000 put a little more than 13% of their earning, after taxes, toward paying down loans.

Depending on whom you talk to and how you define the findings, this could be good or bad news.

Reports show that in credit card charges alone since 1995, consumers amassed almost 2 trillion in debt. The deduction is that since the economy is booming and the stock market is working overtime, Americans have lapsed into a spend-it-all mode. There seems to be little thought about putting something away for that proverbial rainy day.

In general, we know people are living longer, and that means we'll need more income to keep us afloat during those golden years. This is particularly true given the potential pitfalls of Social Security. It would seem it is up to each individual to take care of his own future and not count on support from elsewhere.

Interestingly, the Profit Sharing/401(k) Council of America (PSCA) determined the typical contributor in the 401(k) and other similar plans has balances of approximately $50,000. The council says that since 1996, combined contributions are on the rise by about 40% and that, of those employees who can access these savings plans, 80% participate. On the other hand, those same employees are contributing only 6% of gross wages to a savings plan such as a 401(k).

If we take a look at the findings of the Commerce Department, which many use to study how consumers plan their budgets, it can be said these findings aren't necessarily designed for the task and may be easily misconstrued.

These government statistics say, for example, that the personal savings rate was a negative .2% in July. However, to use these statistics to maintain that the populace isn't saving enough leaves out such things as the savings avenues of stocks, earnings on investments, and real estate appreciation.

The message seems to be that many workers are spending just about every dime they earn. The accompanying trend is toward breaking into current savings to cover additional expenditures and taking out small (often high interest) loans. According to the PSCA, the average employee spends more than 12% of his gross wages to try to catch up on debts incurred with short-term loans.

But the bottom line is that it all depends on whom you talk to, what statistics you study, and how they are interpreted to deduce whether Americans are saving adequately. No one seems to really know. This is something the shopping center industry should watch carefully.

Since none of us knows what the future holds, perhaps the responsible thing to do is to encourage those we have any influence over to save. In a roundabout way, we'll be looking out for our business' healthy, long-term future.