Americans' confidence in their ability to afford a comfortable retirement has recovered slightly from the record lows of the past five years, primarily among those participating in retirement plans, but overall their actual preparations for retirement haven't improved, according to a new survey.

The Retirement Confidence Survey, released by the nonpartisan Employee Benefit Research Institute in Washington, and co-sponsored by the Principal Financial Group, found that 18 percent of workers said they are now very confident, up from 13 percent in 2013. Retiree confidence has increased even more, with 28 percent saying they are now very confident, up from 18 percent in 2013.

The increase in confidence was found to be almost exclusively among those with higher household income and those participating in a retirement plan, including defined contribution, defined benefit, or individual retirement account plans. The percentage of workers in a plan who are very confident increased from 14 percent in 2013 to 24 percent in 2014. Only 9 percent of those not in a plan said they were very confident, essentially unchanged from 10 percent in 2013. Workers without a plan are four times (46 percent) more likely to say they are not at all confident about retirement than those with a plan (9 percent).

Overall reported worker savings remain low and only a minority appear to be taking basic steps to prepare for retirement. Managing daily expenses and the cost of living are the number one reasons workers give for not saving more. Debt is a problem for 58 percent of workers. The exception is among those who have taken some kind of action to plan and save.

“Our analysis shows those who are participating in a retirement plan, have calculated their savings need or worked with a financial professional are not only more confident, they have less debt and higher levels of savings,” said Greg Burrows, senior vice president of retirement and investor services at The Principal, in a statement. “Having a plan for both spending and saving can help manage short term needs and pave the way for more security in the future. The key is to take action.”

The Principal analysis of the survey data found that those in a retirement plan were twice as likely to calculate their retirement need, receive investment advice from a financial professional and report they retired as planned.

The survey also found that workers have high savings goals for retirement, with 22 percent of workers say they need to save between 20 and 29 percent of their income. Another 22 percent indicated that they need to save 30 percent or more. However, those without a retirement plan (IRA, defined contribution, or defined benefit) indicated they are more likely to set the target at 50 percent of income or to say they don't know how much they need to save.

Most workers haven't calculated savings needs, the survey found. Only 44 percent of workers reported that they and/or their spouse have tried to calculate how much money they will need to have saved for a comfortable retirement. But workers who do make such calculations tend to have higher levels of savings and confidence than those who have not.

Sixty-five percent of workers expect to work for pay in retirement but only 27 percent of retirees report they actually do work for pay in retirement. Nearly half say they retired earlier than planned due to health reasons.

To view the complete survey results, click here.