Americans Still Dragging Their Feet on Retirement Preparations

Over the years, U.S. workers have gained confidence in their ability to afford a comfortable retirement following the 2008 economic recession, yet many are still largely unprepared when it comes to planning and saving for next phase of life, according to a recent report from the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI).

The percentage of workers who are “very confident” about having enough money for a comfortable retirement has steadily been on the rise post-2008, rising 13% in 2013 and then increasing again 22% in 2015, before leveling-off at 21% in 2016, reports the 2016 Retirement Confidence Survey (RCS).

Meanwhile, those who are “somewhat confident” increased 36% in 2015 to 42% in 2016, while the percentage who report they are “not at all confident” decreased from 24% in 2015 to 19% in 2016.


This year marks the 26th annual RCS report from EBRI, a Washington, D.C.-based nonpartisan research institute focused on health, savings, retirement and economic security issues.

A significant contributor to workers’ confidence levels in the 2016 RCS report depended on whether or not they had some form of retirement plan in place, be it a defined contribution (DC) plan, individual retirement account (IRA) or having a defined benefit (DB) plan from a current or previous employer.

These workers were more than twice as likely as those without any of these aforementioned plans to be “very confident” by a margin of 26% vs. 10% without a plan. Additionally, workers without a plan were more than three times as likely to say they are “not at all confident” about their financial security in retirement—11% with a plan vs. 38% without a plan.

Among workers who are confident about retirement, it is overwhelming among those who have a retirement plan, said Jack VanDerhei, EBRI research director and co-author of the 2016 RCS.

“Even if you control for discrepancies in age and income, the likelihood that a respondent is either somewhat or very confident that they will have enough money to live comfortably throughout their retirement years is 22 percentage points higher for those who have an IRA, DC plan and/or DB plan than their counterparts without a retirement plan,” VanDerhei said in a written statement.

Workers’ confidence that they are doing a good job of preparing financially for retirement continues to rebound from low 2013 levels, with just 28% indicating they lack confidence in their financial preparations. Conversely, 28% said they feel “very confident” in this regard, and 43% are “somewhat confident.”

Despite this optimism, nearly half (48%) of workers report they have never tried to calculate how much money they will need to have saved so they can live comfortably in retirement. And more than one third (39%) of all workers simply guess at how much they will need to accumulate, rather than doing a systematic retirement needs calculation, EBRI found.

This could be problematic, considering a sizable portion of workers told EBRI they have none, or very little, money in savings and investments.

Among RCS workers providing this information, and who also do not have a retirement plan in place, 83% report that the total value of their household’s savings and investments, excluding the value of their primary home and any DB plans, is less than $10,000. In contrast, 35% of workers who do have a retirement plan report their value of these assets is $100,000 or more.

So then what is the plan for workers coming up short on their retirement savings? About 20% say the solution is to save more later, while 15% said they will have to work during retirement. Another 14% plan to delay retirement altogether.

But while working longer can provide an obvious solution to shoring up one’s savings, the reality is not everyone will be able to continue working as they age. A considerable gap exists between the expectations of workers and retirees when it comes to their experiences with leaving the workforce.

For example, the percentage of workers who expect to retire after age 65 has increased from 11% in 1991 to 37% in 2016; however, only 15% of retirees in 2016 reported actually retiring after age 65, and many report they left the workforce for reasons beyond their control, such as health-related issues or changes at their company, according to EBRI.

Read the 2016 RCS findings from EBRI.

Written by Jason Oliva

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  • Very interesting statistics Jason. The problem is, many things have changed between 1991 and 2016. Also, since the crash of 2008, many retirement plans, savings and assets either went out the window or depleted so terribly.

    Many of these factors have altered those retirement plans. Another thing we have to realize is the uncertainty all of us face in todays society.

    The reverse mortgage is certainly a tool that can help many still fulfill part of their dreams!

    John A. Smaldone

  • The Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) is the research arm of the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans (IFEBP). The IFEBP is the largest association of Taft-Hartley Act union multiemployer and single employer plans in the world. Its conventions have had as many as 40,000 attendees. In Las Vegas it is the second largest convention each year it is held there.

    So when looking at the conclusions of research of the EBRI one needs to be somewhat skeptical of the slant of view expressed. Many times the conclusions and research are used in labor-management negotiations.

    In the 1990s, tragically labor began pushing for termination of defined benefit plans in favor of defined contribution plans. It was generally believed that market gains helped employers drive down the cost of these plans. Gains at times were in fact obscene. Labor believed that plan participants could capture those gains for themselves if union members had defined contribution plans instead. Prepared with such plans by 2000 and with most employers no longer on the hook for plan losses, the crash of the dot coms hit wiping out huge accumulations of pension assets.

    So after 16 years we are beginning once again to see false reliance on markets and their at times exaggerated returns. Market speculation has been known to be disastrous.

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