Americans’ expectations for retirement have changed in recent years, with more employees planning to work to an older age and fewer expecting to enjoy a financially secure retirement.
The average American now expects to retire at age 67, up from age 66 in 2011, 63 a decade ago and 60 in the mid-1990s, according to Gallup’s latest annual Economy and Personal Finance report. Overall, 26 percent expect to retire before age 65, with 27 percent expecting to retire at age 65 and 39 percent after age 65.
Other evidence supports such changing expectations about retirement. In 1991, 11 percent of workers said they expected to retire after age 65, and in 2012 that number has grown to 37 percent, according to the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) this spring. During the same period, the percentage of workers expecting to retire before age 65 plunged from 50 percent in 1991 to 24 percent, the EBRI reports in its latest annual Retirement Confidence Survey (RCS), released in March.
Moreover, according to the EBRI, Americans’ confidence in their ability to retire comfortably is at historically low levels. The nonpartisan research institute found that only 14 percent of workers today are very confident they will have enough money to live comfortably in retirement. Almost twice that percentage – 23 percent – are not at all confident about having a comfortable retirement.
While workers express the highest levels of confidence about their ability to pay for basic expenses in retirement (26 percent are very confident), they are less likely to feel very confident about their ability to pay for medical expenses after retirement (13 percent) and least likely to feel very confident about paying for post-retirement long-term care expenses (9 percent).
In its survey of 1,016 adults in the United States, Gallup found that only 38 percent of non-retired respondents believe they will have enough money to live comfortably in retirement, down from 42 percent last year. When Gallup first addressed the issue a decade ago, 59 percent of respondents thought they would have enough money saved. The percentage dipped below 50 percent during the recent recession and has remained below since.
It comes as little surprise that Americans are less confident about having sufficient funds to live comfortably in retirement. As economic pressures mount, the decision to remain in the workforce – or return after retiring – might be driven less by choice than necessity.
Respondents to Gallup’s survey cited various reasons for the rise in expected retirement age, including insufficient savings, crashes in the stock and housing markets, a weak economy and job market, and uncertainty about Social Security and Medicare.
Likewise, when asked to name the most pressing financial issue facing most Americans today, respondents to the EBRI survey were most likely to identify job uncertainty (42 percent of workers and 41 percent of retirees). In addition, many workers carry a substantial level of debt, which was found to be “strongly related to retirement confidence.”
Unfortunately, many Americans in the workforce today cannot address their financial stress by saving more. In fact, the proportion of workers saving for retirement has dropped.
“In 2009, three-quarters of workers said they saved for retirement. That dropped to 69 percent in 2010 and 66 percent in 2012,” according to Mathew Greenwald of Greenwald & Associates, which conducted and co-sponsored the EBRI’s 2012 RCS. “It’s no wonder that 67 percent of workers feel behind schedule when it comes to planning and saving for retirement, an increase of 12 percentage points from the 55 percent who felt behind schedule in 2005.
“Or looking at it another way,” Greenwald said in a statement, “only 31 percent of workers feel they are on track or ahead of schedule in preparing for retirement, compared with 44 percent in 2005.”
The percentage of workers not at all confident in their financial preparations for retirement is slowly creeping upward: from 12 percent in 2008 to 14 percent in 2009 to 17 percent in 2011 and 19 percent in 2012.
Today, many workers have virtually no savings or investments, the RCS findings reveal. In total, 60 percent of workers say the total value of their household’s savings and investments – excluding the value of their primary home and any defined benefit plans – is less than $25,000.
On average, retired households spend about 80 percent of what working households spend, but their earnings are about 57 percent that of working households, according to separate data from the EBRI earlier this year.
“Workers are falling further behind, and they know it,” Greenwald added.
Our “golden years” used to mean spending time doing what we’ve always wanted to do. Yet now workers approaching the traditional retirement age must think creatively about how they can make their retirement years fulfilling while still working a job.
“Retirement used to signal the end of a productive life for workers, but more and more, retirement is seen as a transition point for beginning a new phase of your life,” Randall Hansen, founder of Quintessential Careers, writes. “For those approaching retirement, it is now a time to develop a strategy to work fewer hours, try a new career or business, learn new skills and further your education, give back through volunteering and enjoy life.”
For a deep dive into information and resources about saving for retirement and the tools to get started, visit the U.S. Employee Benefits Security Administration’s Retirement Savings Education Campaign.
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