EBRI Issue Brief

The 2011 Retirement Confidence Survey: Confidence Drops to Record Lows, Reflecting “the New Normal”

Mar 15, 2011 40  pages


RECORD-LOW CONFIDENCE: The 21st wave of the Retirement Confidence Survey (RCS) finds that Americans’ confidence in their ability to afford a comfortable retirement has plunged to a new low at the same time that the recent declines in other retirement confidence indicators appear to be stabilizing. Instead of making fundamental adjustments to their spending and saving patterns in response to the decline in confidence, workers continue to change their expectations about how they will transition from work to retirement in what has been called an age of “the new normal.”

WORKERS NOT CONFIDENT: The percentage of workers not at all confident about having enough money for a comfortable retirement grew from 22 percent in 2010 to 27 percent, the highest level measured in the 21 years of the RCS. At the same time, the percentage very confident shrank to the low of 13 percent that was first measured in 2009.

INCOME BREAKS: The increase in the percentage of workers not at all confident about having enough money for a comfortable retirement appears to be largely due to a loss of confidence among those who have less than $100,000 in savings. This percentage increased sharply among those with savings less than $25,000 (up from 19 percent in 2007 to 43 percent in 2011) and between $25,000–$99,999 (up from 7 percent in 2007 to 22 percent in 2011).

RETIREES: Retiree confidence in having a financially secure retirement is stable, with 17 percent saying they are not at all confident and 24 percent very confident (statistically equivalent to 2010 levels).

SAVED FOR RETIREMENT? Sixty-eight percent of workers report they and/or their spouse have saved for retirement (down from 75 percent in 2009, but statistically equivalent to the 2010 level). Fifty-nine percent say they and/or their spouse are currently saving (down from 65 percent in 2009, but statistically equivalent to earlier years).

LITTLE OR NO SAVINGS: A sizable percentage of workers report they have virtually no savings or investments. Among RCS workers providing this type of information, 29 percent say they have less than $1,000. In total, more than half of workers (56 percent) report that 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.

NO RETIREMENT SAVINGS GOAL: Many workers continue to be unaware of how much they need to save for retirement. Only 42 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 that they can live comfortably in retirement.

EXPECTED RETIREMENT AGE RISING: The age at which workers expect to retire continues its slow, upward trend. In particular, the percentage of workers who expect to retire after age 65 has increased over time, from 11 percent in 1991 and 1996 to 20 percent in 2001, 25 percent in 2006, and 36 percent in 2011.

MORE EXPECTING TO WORK IN RETIREMENT: More workers now expect to work for pay in retirement. Seventy-four percent report they plan to work in retirement (up from 70 percent in 2010), three times the percentage of retirees who say they actually worked for pay in retirement (23 percent).