EBRI Issue Brief

The 2016 Retirement Confidence Survey: Worker Confidence Stable, Retiree Confidence Continues to Increase

Mar 22, 2016 40  pages


The 26th wave of the Retirement Confidence Survey (RCS), the longest-running survey of its kind in the nation, finds that American workers’ confidence in their ability to afford a comfortable retirement has maintained its increase after the record lows experienced between 2009 and 2013. However, retiree confidence in their ability to afford a comfortable retirement continued to increase in 2016. While workers and/or their spouses who have a retirement plan have much larger savings and are also more likely to have taken steps to prepare for retirement, in the aggregate, only a minority of all workers appear to be taking basic steps needed to prepare for retirement.

Findings in this year’s RCS include (see also the six RCS Fact Sheets):

  • The percentage of workers very confident about having enough money for a comfortable retirement, at record lows between 2009 and 2013, increased from 13 percent in 2013 to 22 percent in 2015, and, in 2016 has leveled off at 21 percent. The percentage of workers somewhat confident increased from 36 percent in 2015 to 42 percent in 2016, while the percentage not at all confident decreased from 24 percent in 2015 to 19 percent in 2016.
  • This move out of the not-at-all-confident group is observed primarily among those reporting they or their spouses do not have a retirement plan (defined benefit, defined contribution, or individual retirement account). Whereas in the recent prior years, increases in retirement confidence occurred among those with a plan.
  • Retiree confidence in having enough money for a comfortable retirement, which historically tends to exceed worker confidence levels, continued to increase in 2016 reaching 39 percent who are very confident (up from 18 percent in 2013). The percentage not at all confident was 12 percent (statistically unchanged from 14 percent in 2013).
  • Worker confidence in the affordability of various aspects of retirement continued its increase in 2016. In particular, the percentage of workers who are very confident in their ability to pay for basic expenses increased (43 percent in 2016, up from 25 percent in 2013 and 37 percent in 2015). The percentages of workers who are very confident in their ability to pay for medical expenses (22 percent, up from 14 percent in 2013) and long-term care expenses (16 percent, up from 11 percent in 2013) are slowly inching upward.
  • Sixty-nine percent of workers report they or their spouses have saved for retirement (statistically equivalent to 67 per-cent in 2015). Still, a sizable percentage of workers report they have virtually no savings and investments. Among RCS workers providing this type of information, 26 percent say they have less than $1,000, though those who indicate they and their spouse do not have a retirement plan—a defined benefit (DB), defined contribution (DC), or individual retirement account (IRA)—are far more likely than those who have a plan to report this low level of savings (67 per-cent vs. 9 percent) and far less likely to report having saved at least $100,000 (5 percent vs. 34 percent).
  • Retirees are more likely than workers to describe their level of debt as not a problem. Sixty-seven percent of retirees and 44 percent of workers indicate they do not have a problem with their level of debt.