U.S. workers are more pessimistic about their prospects for a comfortable retirement than at any time in the past two decades, according to a new survey.

The 2011 retirement confidence survey from the Employee Benefits Research Institute and Matthew Greenwald & Associates found that more than a quarter (27 percent) of workers now say they are “not at all confident” about retirement, up 5 percentage points from the level measured just one year ago.

Reinforcing that trend, the percentage of workers saying they are “very confident” of a comfortable retirement ties with 2009 at 13 percent—the lowest rate ever measured by the survey. The survey also found that roughly a third of both workers and retirees said they had to dip into their savings last year to pay for basic expenses. Significantly, the survey also found that those with retirement savings—such as a 401(k) or an individual retirement account—were far less likely than those without these accounts to tap into their savings.

“Many people are planning to work longer and retire later because they know they simply can’t afford to leave the work place—both for the paycheck and for the benefits,” Greenwald. “Unfortunately, many retirees also tell us they left the work force earlier than they planned, either because of health problems or layoffs. So it may not necessarily be a bad thing that those who can work longer choose to do so."

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