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For Americans just scraping by, the only savings they’ve salted away are in a 401(k). That was fine in a growing economy. But now that it’s slumping, inflation is up and layoffs are spreading, a small but increasing number of people are tapping those accounts. T. Rowe Price says 401(k) withdrawals rose 19 percent last year through June 2008. Vanguard reports its hardship 401(k) withdrawals rose 22% in 2007. Though just representing 1.5% of all plan holders–these numbers are nonetheless troubling. Moreover, withdrawals aren’t the only threat to the 401(k) assets of 44 million American workers.

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