A brightening economy has not lifted American hopes for a comfortable retirement. Almost half of American workers (49%) and more than a third of retirees (36%) lack confidence that they will have enough money to live comfortably in retirement, according to the 23rd annual Retirement Confidence Survey released today by the Employee Benefit Research Institute, a nonpartisan public policy research group.

Of the workers who lack retirement confidence, 28% said they are “not at all confident,” the largest percentage feeling this way in the survey’s 23-year history.

One reason for the low confidence level is that “workers may be waking up to just how much they may need to save,” according to EBRI’s announcement. One in five said they believe they would need to save between 20% to 29% of their income to achieve a financially secure retirement and 23% indicated they would need to save 30% or more.

“Aggressive as those savings targets appear to be, they may not be based on a careful analysis of their individual circumstances,” Jack VanDerhei, EBRI research director and a co-author of the survey report, said in a statement. “Only 46 percent 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 they can live comfortably in retirement.”

Despite their concerns, saving for retirement appears to be taking a back seat to more immediate financial concerns, with only 2% of workers and 4% or retirees identifying retirement as their most pressing financial issue.  Both workers and retirees are most likely to cite job uncertainty (30% of workers and 27%, respectively) and making ends meet (12% each) as their top concern.

Debt also weighed on Americans’ retirement confidence, according to the survey. More than half of workers (55%) and 39% of retirees reported having a problem with their level of debt, with only half saying they could readily come up with $2,000 if an unexpected need arose within the next month.

Not surprisingly, given the worries over debt and job insecurity, saving for retirement has slackened among workers, with 66% reporting they and/or their spouses had saved for retirement, down from 75% in 2009.  

Relatively few reported turning to advisors for guidance. Only 23% of workers and 28% of retirees said they have obtained investment advice from financial advisors. Workers were unlikely to follow the financial advice in its entirety, however, with only 27% saying they did. About four in 10 workers (41%) said they followed most of the advice and 31% said they followed only some or none of it.  The top reason for not following the advice was not trusting the advice (33%), followed by having their own ideas or other plans or goals (20%) and not being able to afford it (18%).

The survey polled 1,003 working adults over the age of 25 and 251 retirees nationwide in January. It was co-sponsored by Mathew Greenwald & Associates, a Washington, DC-based market research firm.

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