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New Survey Finds 83% of Americans Concerned About Retirement

Worry PlungeJanuary 14, 2009, Washington, D.C. – A national public opinion survey reveals widespread retirement insecurity among Americans.  Current economic conditions have more than eight out of ten Americans worried about their ability to retire. 

Some 71% indicate they feel it is harder today to retire as compared to previous generations. 

The findings also indicate that Americans believe pensions can help reduce insecurity, with 55% expressing that a pension would increase their own retirement confidence and 84% saying that policymakers should make it easier for employers to offer pensions. Further, nearly nine out of ten Americans believe all workers should have a pension plan.  Commissioned by the National Institute on Retirement Security and conducted by Mathew Greenwald & Associates, Inc., the results are contained in a new research report entitled, “Pensions & Retirement Security: A Roadmap for Policy Makers .”  Download the full research findings here.

“Even before the global financial crisis, the retirement outlook for America was grim. This month, millions of workers and retirees are opening their individual retirement account statements and likely feeling that their retirement aspirations are an unattainable fantasy,” said Beth Almeida, executive director of the National Institute on Retirement Security.

“This opinion survey – coupled with a growing body of research data – tells us that we need to get back to retirement basics,” Almeida remarked. “This means a system that provides a stable retirement income from three sources:  a pension, 401(k)-type individual savings, and Social Security.  To restore retirement readiness, Americans would be well-served by policies from the new Congress and Administration that take a comprehensive approach: recognizing that 401(k) plans can’t do it alone; shoring up Social Security, and re-tooling pensions for the 21st century.

She added, “Americans value the stability and security provided by a pension, and are experiencing the pitfalls of ‘on your own’ retirement.  Absent a ‘Pension Renaissance,’ our retirement system will remain inefficient and insufficient – and Americans will continue to feel vulnerable.  Research indicates that a 21st century pension system would simultaneously meet the needs of employers, workers, and our economy by being portable, secure, a shared responsibility, and affordable.”

The survey was conducted as a nationwide telephone interview of more than 800 Americans age 25 or older to assess their sentiment regarding retirement and actions the new Congress and Administration could take.  The key findings are as follows:

Widespread Retirement Insecurity

  • 83% of Americans are concerned about current economic conditions affecting their retirement.
  • Seven in ten Americans believe it is harder today to retire.
  • 51% of Americans believe today’s retirement system is worse than the previous system where workers were more likely to have pensions.  When asked what a secure retirement means to them, close to half cite simply having enough money to pay bills or meet basic needs.Pensions Can Reduce Insecurity
  • 65% of workers with a pension are confident it will be there at retirement.•    Only about half of Americans with 401(k)-type accounts believe they will have enough money to retire.
  • 55% of those without a pension say having a pension would ease their anxiety.
  • 87% believe all workers should have a pension so they can be self-reliant in retirement.
Support for a Government Role

  • Americans view retirement security as a shared responsibility between individuals, employers, and government – 85% agree.
  • Strengthening Social Security is the most important step the new Congress and Administration can take to improve retirement security.
  • Americans also strongly favor tax incentives that would help individuals save for retirement or help employers offer retirement plans.

Policies to Promote Pensions

  • 84% of Americans think government should make it easier for employers to offer pensions.
  • 79% of Americans think it is a good idea for government to sponsor pension plans that small employers or individuals can join.
  • 87% of Americans think it is a good idea to provide tax incentives or other steps to encourage small employers to band together to offer pensions. 

What Americans Want From a Retirement Plan

  • Americans want portability, followed by employer contributions, continuation of benefits for a spouse after death, and a regular check that cannot be outlived.
  • Respondents are less interested in managing investments.
  • Americans want to take individual responsibility/control over their retirement savings and trust themselves most, but they tend to be less interested in managing their investments and often say 401(k) savings are a “gamble.”
  • Americans are divided as to whether retirement plans should allow loans against retirement savings. 

Mathew Greenwald & Associates balanced the quantitative data to reflect U.S. demographics of the United States for age, gender, and income.  The margin of error is plus or minus 3.5%.  Greenwald provides research to the nation's top companies and associations with a specialized expertise in the financial services and retirement sectors.

NIRS will hold a conference call briefing on the report on Wednesday, January 14, 2009 at 11:00 AM ET by dialing (800) 288-9626, Access “NIRS Opinion Research”.  A live PowerPoint presentation will be available online during the conference call. Log on to the web conference by clicking here to open the "NIRS Opinion Research Findings" page.  Select join and enter email and name to access the presentation.

The findings also are available at www.nirsonline.org.

An audio digitized replay of the call will be available from January 14, 2009 at 1 PM ET through February 11, 2009 at 11:59 PM ET by dialing (800) 475-6701, Access 981317.

About NIRS

The National Institute on Retirement Security is a not-for-profit organization established to contribute to informed policymaking by fostering a deep understanding of the value of retirement security to employees, employers, and the economy through national research and education programs. NIRS seeks to encourage the development of public policies that enhance retirement security in America.  Located in Washington, D.C., NIRS has a diverse membership of organizations interested in retirement including employee benefit plans, state or local agencies that manage retirement plans, trade associations, financial services firms, and other retirement service providers.  

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