Retirement Confidence: On the Mend


After dropping to record lows between 2009 and 2013, the percentage of workers confident about having enough money for a comfortable retirement, continues to increase, according to the 2015 Employee Benefit Research Institute Retirement Confidence Survey. 22 percent of Americans are now very confident (up from 13 percent in 2013 and 18 percent in 2014), while 36 percent are somewhat confident. That’s the good news. Unfortunately, 24 percent are not at all confident (statistically unchanged from 2013 and 2014). EBRI notes that confidence is strongly related to whether or not people have retirement plans. Among those with a plan, the percentage of very confident doubled from 14 percent in 2013 to 28 percent in 2015.

The fact that 67 percent of all workers (or their spouses) – and 78 percent of full time workers – have saved for retirement is misleading, because total savings remain low. A staggering 57 percent say total value of savings and investments is less than $25,000, including 28 percent who have less than $1,000. As you would expect, retirement savings increase with household income and education.

Lack of education has become a big problem for Americans. According to research from the Hamilton Project, the median, inflation-adjusted earnings of men without a high school degree fell by 20 percent between 1990 and 2013 and for women, earnings fell by 12 percent. In contrast, both men and women with a bachelor’s degree saw their earnings rise between 1990 and 2013, by 7 and 16 percent respectively.

With median income dropping, it’s no wonder that half of the respondents to the EBRI survey said that cost of living and day-to-day expenses were the two main reasons that they are not saving (or saving more) for retirement. Even so, it is still amazing to learn that even those who are under pressure say that they could save $25 a week more than they are currently saving.

Instead of saving more, respondents are relying on a later retirement date. In 1991, just 11 percent of workers expected to retire about age 65. This year, the number has more than tripled to 36 percent. Working longer always sounds like a great solution, but what happens if your boss hasn’t bought into your plan, or you have a job that is too physically demanding to continue late in life? In fact, while 67 percent of workers say they plan to work for pay after they retire, just 23 percent of retirees report they have actually worked during retirement.

It should also be noted that while 63 percent of today’s retirees say that Social Security is a major source of income in their retirement, about half that number (31 percent) of current workers expect Social Security to be a major source of income in retirement. That result probably speaks to a misunderstanding of the current state of the Social Security system.

According to The 2014 Annual Report of the SS Board of Trustees, the trust funds' assets are now $2.76 trillion and should keep growing through 2019. After 2033, the annual revenue from taxes will still be enough to cover 75 percent of future costs, so while many say flippantly, “Social Security won’t be there for me,” the numbers say otherwise.

Finally, the EBRI survey found that most people do not like to step on the scale to see just how much work they need to do. Just 48 percent have tried to calculate how much money they will need in retirement. For the other 52 percent, EBRI’s Choose to Save Ballpark E$timate is a great resource to crunch numbers. You can even play with some of the variables to see the impact of working longer, saving more and living longer. Retirement confidence may be influenced by a variety of external factors, but it is clear that those who take action will likely feel a lot better.