If we’ve learned anything over the last couple years, it should be that the stock market is highly volatile. The stock market does not always go up. The stock market does not always guarantee great returns. For those who can afford the risk (not average Americans), the stock market can be a great place to speculate and make money. In my opinion, Americans need to push to get their retirements placed back into safe pensions. The volatility of the stock market guarantees that are 401(k)s are at more risk than most of us are comfortable with.

From Calculated Risk:

The table below shows the largest down days on the S&P 500 since 1950.

Largest S&P 500 One Day Percentage Declines since 1950
Date Percent Decline Close Previous Close Six Months Later
1 10/19/1987 -20.5% 224.84 282.7 15.3%
2 10/15/2008 -9.0% 907.84 998.01 -4.7%
3 12/1/2008 -8.9% 816.21 896.24 15.7%
4 9/29/2008 -8.8% 1106.42 1213.27 -28.8%
5 10/26/1987 -8.3% 227.67 248.22 15.3%
6 10/9/2008 -7.6% 909.92 984.94 -5.9%
7 10/27/1997 -6.9% 876.99 941.64 23.7%
8 8/31/1998 -6.8% 957.28 1027.14 28.0%
9 1/8/1988 -6.8% 243.4 261.07 11.7%
10 11/20/2008 -6.7% 752.44 806.58 17.9%
11 5/28/1962 -6.7% 55.5 59.47 10.6%
12 8/8/2011 -6.7% 1,119.47 1199.38
13 9/26/1955 -6.6% 42.61 45.63 14.1%
14 10/13/1989 -6.1% 333.65 355.39 3.2%
15 11/19/2008 -6.1% 806.58 859.12 10.1%
16 10/22/2008 -6.1% 896.78 955.05 -5.0%
17 4/14/2000 -5.8% 1356.56 1440.51 -2.0%
18 10/7/2008 -5.7% 996.23 1056.89 -18.1%
19 6/26/1950 -5.4% 18.11 19.14 10.0%
20 1/20/2009 -5.3% 805.22 850.12 18.1%
21 11/5/2008 -5.3% 952.77 1005.75 -4.8%
22 11/12/2008 -5.2% 852.3 898.95 4.8%
23 10/16/1987 -5.2% 282.7 298.08 -8.1%
24 11/6/2008 -5.0% 904.88 952.77 2.7%
25 9/17/2001 -4.9% 1038.77 1092.54 12.2%
26 2/10/2009 -4.9% 827.16 869.89 21.8%
27 9/11/1986 -4.8% 235.18 247.06 23.4%
28 8/4/2011 -4.8% 1200.07 1260.34
29 9/17/2008 -4.7% 1156.39 1213.6 -31.3%
30 9/15/2008 -4.7% 1192.7 1251.7 -36.8%
31 3/2/2009 -4.7% 700.82 735.09 47.1%
32 2/17/2009 -4.6% 789.17 826.84 27.2%
33 8/10/2011 -4.4% 1,120.75 1172.53
34 4/14/1988 -4.4% 259.75 271.58 7.0%
35 3/12/2001 -4.3% 1180.16 1233.42 -8.0%
36 4/20/2009 -4.3% 832.39 869.6 31.7%
37 3/5/2009 -4.3% 682.55 712.87 46.2%
38 11/30/1987 -4.2% 230.3 240.34 10.0%
39 11/14/2008 -4.2% 873.29 911.29 4.2%
40 9/3/2002 -4.2% 878.02 916.07 -6.4%
41 10/2/2008 -4.0% 1114.28 1161.06 -25.1%
42 10/25/1982 -4.0% 133.32 138.83 20.3%