It's a lingering effect of the Great Recession: More Americans doubt they can retire with enough money to make it through their golden years.
Unfortunately, such pessimism isn't necessarily causing them to save more for retirement, researchers say. Instead, a growing number of workers plan to stay at their jobs well past 65, an option that carries with it the risk of unexpected illness and workplace upheaval.
Twenty-eight percent of U.S. workers say they are "not at all confident" about having enough money for a comfortable retirement, according to a new survey by the Employee Benefit Research Institute. The Washington-based nonprofit reported that only 10 percent of workers gave that answer in 2007.
In the recession, confidence "fell right off the table" for those who had saved little for retirement, said Jack VanDerhei, the group's research director. Even though the recession ended more than three years ago, optimism hasn't returned for those workers, who "now realize they really are in a bad situation."
VanDerhei and financial planners said workers still can significantly improve their finances for retirement. They recommended finding ways to spend less and invest more, especially in employer-sponsored 401(k) plans or individual retirement accounts.
Retirement planning offers opportunities to think about what really matters, financial planners said. After devising a plan, some workers may decide to work part time well into their retirement years, while others may leave a job they hate, get retrained and stay longer at work they find more fulfilling.
"You have a lot more leverage than you think you have," said Bruce Dzieza, founder of Willow Creek Financial Services in Sebastopol.
Nearly six in 10 workers currently save for retirement, according to the survey released this month by the research institute. But even among workers 55 years of age and older, half said they have accumulated less than $50,000 in savings and investments, excluding home equity.
Many appear to be living without much of a financial cushion. Only half of those surveyed said they definitely could come up with $2,000 if an unexpected need arose within the next month.
As a result, plenty of workers seem more preoccupied on paying today's bills than setting aside money for retirement.
A survey last fall by Wells Fargo reported that half of middle class workers in their 50s said they are too focused on current financial obligations to plan for the future.
Joe Ready, a director of the company's institutional retirement and trust division, said the message was: "I know I need to save more, but I really can't afford to do that."
Instead, more workers say they will keep drawing a paycheck well past the normal retirement age.
In 1991, only one in 10 workers told the research institute that they planned to work beyond 65. By this winter, that number had risen to one in three.
However, experts question whether so many workers actually can stay that long at their jobs.
For the past two decades, the median U.S. retirement age has remained steady at 62, the institute reported.
And nearly half the retirees surveyed this winter said they had stopped working earlier than planned. The biggest reason for early retirement was health problems or disability. Also mentioned was downsizing or other changes in the workplace. Seven percent left early for what the institute deemed were strictly positive reasons.