Confidence in retirement savings remains at record low levels, according to a survey released this morning from the Employee Benefit Research Institute. EBRI’s 23rd annual Retirement Confidence Survey, the longest-running survey of its kind, reports that 21% are not too confident and 28% — the highest level in the survey’s history — are not at all confident about being able to afford a comfortable retirement. In addition, only 18% of current retirees say they are very confident in being financially secure, a record low.

More than half of respondents in EBRI’s survey report having some confidence in their ability to save enough before exiting the workforce, with 13% very confident and 38% somewhat confident, but the numbers are essentially unchanged from last year’s record lows. The low levels in the face of a brightening economic outlook may reflect large savings targets, according to EBRI officials: 20% say they need to save between 20% and 29% of their income and 23% say they should save 30% of their income or more.

“Aggressive as those savings target appear to be, they may not be based on a careful analysis of their individual circumstances,” says Jack VanDerhei, EBRI research director, and co-author of the report. “Only 46% report they and/or their spouse have tried to calculate how much money they will need to have saved by the time they retire so that they can live comfortably in retirement.”

As in previous surveys, those who have done a retirement savings needs analysis, VanDerhei adds, are more confident than workers who have not, despite having higher savings goals.

Fifty-seven percent report less than $25,000 in total household savings, apart from any defined benefit plans and the value of their primary home. Another 55% of workers and 39% of retirees say they have a problem with their level of debt. Still, only 2% of workers and 4% of retirees say saving or planning for retirement is their most pressing financial issue.

“Many lack even a short-term cushion,” says Matt Greenwald of Greenwald & Associates, which conducted and co-sponsored the survey. “Only about half of workers and a comparable number of retirees say they could definitely come up with $2,000 if an unexpected need arose within the next month.”

Other findings of this year’s RCS:

  •   The percentage of workers who say they or their spouse has saved for retirement has decreased from 75% in 2009 to 66%.
  •   Ninety percent of eligible workers either contribute to or already have money in an employer-sponsored retirement savings plan.
  •   Both workers (30%) and retirees (27%) still are mostly likely to say job uncertainty is the most pressing issue facing Americans today. For workers, last year 42% said this was the most serious concern.

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