Only about half of American workers are confident they'll have enough money to live comfortably in retirement, according to a survey released last week, but that optimism shrinks further when medical expenses are piled on top of basic expenses.
Job insecurity and debt also put future finances on shaky ground, according to a snapshot of attitudes taken in January.
The Employee Benefit Research Institute, in its 2013 Retirement Confidence Survey, says that the percentage of workers who are confident about having enough money for a comfortable retirement has puddled at the overall record low recorded in January 2011.
This year's survey indicates that only 13 percent of workers are very confident and 38 percent are somewhat confident that they'll have enough savings or income for a comfortable retirement.
On the flip side, 21 percent are not too confident, and 28 percent are not at all confident about their abilities to retire without major financial stresses.
When asked in January about their particular fears, those surveyed said health care expenses, job insecurity and lingering debts particularly clouded their retirement confidence.
Those who are "not at all confident" about covering post-retirement medical expenses jumped to 29 percent in January 2013 from 24 percent in January 2012. Similarly, total lack of confidence about covering long-term care expenses jumped to 39 percent from 34 percent.
Unfortunately, "only 46 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," said Jack VanDerhei, research director at the institute.
The survey indicates that such preparation helps attitudes. VanDerhei said that workers who have done careful analysis of their savings and retirement needs tend to be more confident than workers who have not.
A notable takeaway from the new survey is that although the overall economy and joblessness have improved in the past two years, retirement confidence failed to brighten in tandem.
"The economy is still sick," noted Frank Lenk, regional economist at the Mid America Regional Council. "People really won't feel better until the nation has recovered all the jobs lost in the recession, and that hasn't happened yet."
Also, Lenk said, people tend to judge their overall financial condition in respect to housing values and housing values are not yet appreciating enough to restore confidence.
"And part of what's going on is that people have a huge amount of debt, so debt retirement is taking precedence over saving for a rainy day," Lenk said.
Researchers at the Employee Benefit Research Institute said it's also possible that retirement confidence remains shaky because people have become more aware of their need to build personal savings rather than rely on pensions or Social Security.
Aware or not, the survey found some are woefully unprepared.
More than 1 in 4 -- 28 percent -- said they have saved less than $1,000 toward retirement.
Nearly 6 in 10 -- 57 percent -- said the total value of their household savings and investments, excluding the value of their primary home and any defined benefits plans, is less than $25,000.
Only half of the workers polled said they could come up with $2,000 if an unexpected need arose within the next month.
Not surprising given those facts, 16 percent of workers said they were not at all confident about their ability to cover basic expenses in retirement. That was an increase of 4 percentage points from 2011.
Similar fears about inability to cover medical expenses or long-term care expenses each grew 5 percentage points from two years ago.
Nearly a third of workers cited job uncertainty as a contributor to their financial concerns.
The findings are in the institute's 23rd retirement confidence survey, the longest-running analysis of its kind. Results are based on in-depth questions asked of 1,003 workers age 25 and older and 251 retirees. Statistics are accurate within 3 percentage points, plus or minus, with a 95 percent certainty, the institute said.
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