The percentage of American workers with virtually no retirement savings grew for the third straight year, according to a survey released Tuesday.
The percentage of workers who said they have less than $10,000 in savings grew to 43% in 2010, from 39% in 2009, according to the Employee Benefit Research Institute’s annual Retirement Confidence Survey. That excludes the value of primary homes and defined-benefit pension plans.
Workers who said they had less than $1,000 jumped to 27%, from 20% in 2009.
Confidence in ability to save enough for a comfortable retirement hovered at 16% of respondents, the second lowest point in the 20-year history of the survey.
“Americans’ attitudes toward retirement have clearly tracked the economy the last couple of years, and that seems to be the case in 2010,” said Jack VanDerhei, EBRI’s research director and co-author of the survey, in a statement.
The percentage of workers who said they have saved for retirement fell to 69%, from 75% in 2009.
While VanDerhei attributed the decline in current savings rates to job losses, mortgage problems and the suspension of corporate 401(k) matches in 2009, he said the economy isn’t entirely to blame.
“In previous years, there were a whole lot of people who had nothing to begin with,” said VanDerhei.
The gap between what Americans have saved and what they’d need for retirement is forcing workers to prolong their working years.
According to the survey, 24% of workers said they have postponed their planned retirement age in the past year, up from 14% in 2008.
But even as fears over health care costs and job prospects mount, the survey found that only 46% of workers have tried to calculate what they need for a comfortable standard of living in their golden years.
“People just don’t want to think about this,” said VanDerhei. “Everybody thinks they’re too young to think about it, until suddenly they’re too old to do anything about it.”
In general, financial planners say that retirement savings, including Social Security benefits and pension, should be large enough to provide about 80% of pre-retirement income.
To reach that target, “most Americans need to be saving within the healthy range of 6% – 10% (of their salary),” said Beth McHugh, vice president of workplace investing for Fidelity Investments.
But the survey found that 54% of the workers with some form of savings said that they have less than $25,000 stowed away.
Delaying retirement, though not ideal, is a good sign that people are finally facing reality.
“People have figured out that they don’t have enough money,” VanDerhei said. “Still, I’d rather they bite the bullet today, rather than take the chance that they’d have a job when they are 65.”