American workers and retirees are expressing higher confidence about their ability to afford retirement this year, even though there is little sign they are taking the necessary steps to achieve that goal, according to a new survey.

The 25th annual Retirement Confidence Survey, from Employee Benefit Research Institute and Greenwald & Associates, found that a key factor in American’s outlook on retirement is whether or not they have a retirement savings plan.

Retirement confidence continued to rebound this year from the record lows experienced between 2009 and 2013. The increasing optimism appears to be a result of those who indicate they and/or their spouse have a retirement plan, such as a defined contribution (401(k)-type) plan, defined benefit (pension) plan or individual retirement account.

“Those without a retirement plan seem to understand they are likely to have difficulties accumulating adequate financial resources for retirement: 44 percent of workers without a retirement plan are not at all confident about having enough money for a comfortable retirement, compared with only 14 percent of those who have a plan,” said EBRI research director Jack VanDerhei, who co-authored the report.

This year’s RCS finds that the percentage of workers confident about having enough money for a comfortable retirement—at record lows between 2009 and 2013—increased in 2014 and again in 2015. This year, 22 percent of the survey respondents said they are now very confident (up from 13 percent in 2013 and 18 percent in 2014), while 36 percent are somewhat confident. Overall, 24 percent are not at all confident (statistically unchanged from 28 percent in 2013 and 24 percent in 2014). However, this increased confidence is based on those indicating they and/or their spouse have a retirement plan.

Worker confidence in the affordability of various aspects of retirement has also rebounded. In particular, the percentage of workers who are very confident in their ability to pay for basic expenses has increased (37 percent, up from 25 percent in 2013 and 29 percent in 2014). The percentages of workers who are very confident in their ability to pay for medical expenses (18 percent, up from 12 percent in 2011) and long-term care expenses (14 percent, up from 9 percent in 2011) are slowly inching upward.

Confidence among retirees (which historically tends to exceed worker confidence levels) also increased in having a financially secure retirement, with 37 percent very confident (up from 18 percent in 2013 and 27 percent in 2014). The percentage not at all confident was 14 percent (statistically unchanged from 14 percent in 2013 and 17 percent in 2014).

Workers are somewhat more confident that they are doing a good job of preparing financially for retirement: 25 percent are very confident in 2015 (up from 17 percent in 2013). Overall, about two-thirds are somewhat or very confident about their financial preparations, while one third (32 percent) indicate they are not confident.

However, for workers without a retirement plan, savings remain low and only a minority appears to be taking basic steps needed to prepare for retirement. Only 23 percent of those without a retirement plan have done retirement needs calculation and 64 percent without a retirement plan say they have saved less than $1,000.

Perhaps in recognition of the fact that their financial preparations for retirement may be inadequate, 16 percent of workers in the 2015 RCS say the age at which they expect to retire has changed in the past year. Of those, the large majority (81 percent) report that their expected retirement age has increased. But the RCS also finds that many retirees say they left the workforce earlier than planned for reasons beyond their control.

“Workers still expect to work longer to make up for any savings short falls,” said EBRI senior research associate at EBRI Craig Copeland, who co-authored the study. “However, many retirees continue to report that they retired before they expected to due to an illness or disability, needing to care for others, or because of a change at their job. Consequently, relying on working longer is not a solid strategy for retirement preparedness.”

The complete results are available online at www.ebri.org/surveys/rcs/2015/.

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