Surveying retirement

The survey was co-sponsored by EBRI, a nonprofit, and Matthew Greenwald & Associates, a research firm, with funding from about 24 public and private groups, including financial-services firms. About 1,000 workers 25 and older and 250 retirees were randomly chosen for phone interviews. The statistical margin of error is plus or minus 3%.

Some findings:

46% reported that they or their spouse had tried to estimate how much they will need to live comfortably. The rest made no such calculation.

2% of workers and 4% of retirees said retirement saving or planning was the most pressing financial issue for most Americans.

Participants cited the cost of living and daily expenses as the key reasons why workers don’t contribute to savings plans, or don’t contribute enough.

55% of workers and 39% of retirees reported problems with their debt levels.

Associated Press

Workers appear to have little faith that the economic recovery and the stock market’s climb have left them better-prepared for retirement.

Confidence in the ability to afford a comfortable retirement remains at the same record low level recorded in 2011, and is slightly lower than last year, according to the Employee Benefit Research Institute, which has conducted the study the past 23 years.

Nearly half of the workers surveyed in January had little or no confidence that they will have a financially comfortable retirement, the EBRI said Tuesday. Twenty-eight percent were not at all confident — the highest level recorded since the survey began in 1991 — and 21 percent said they were not too confident.

About 13 percent were very confident and 38 percent somewhat confident, figures that weren’t substantially greater than the record lows in the 2011 survey.

The survey also shows how many workers live on the edge, with little savings besides the equity they may have if they own a home, and besides any expected income from a pension. Fifty-seven percent said the total value of their household savings and investments was less than $25,000, excluding any home equity and pension benefits. Among that group, nearly half had less than $1,000 saved.

If there is any positive takeaway, it’s that researchers believe workers who are the least prepared for retirement have become increasingly aware that they need to save more.

In 2007, for example, confidence numbers were substantially higher before the economy sank into a recession. Seventy percent were either somewhat confident or very confident that year.

The decline in confidence in recent years suggests “a much higher degree of realism” about the need to increase savings rates, said Jack VanDerhei, EBRI’s research director.

That could explain why confidence remains low, despite the economy’s gains since the recession and a market rally that lifted the Dow Jones industrial average to a record high two weeks ago.

Despite the realization that they are not saving enough, short-term financial needs are so pressing that long-term goals become secondary.

“Job security and financial security continue to be Americans’ major concerns, not retirement,” VanDerhei said.

In addition to worrying about retirement savings, workers “lack confidence in their ability to pay for medical expenses, and even basics such as food, clothing and shelter,” he said.