By Chris Adams

Confident or confused?

When it comes to planning for their retirements, Americans are a little bit of both – as well as maybe a bit self-delusional.

Those are some of the findings from the retirement confidence survey by the Employee Benefit Research Institute, a Washington-based nonprofit that conducts research on employee benefits.

In a session with National Press Foundation fellows exploring the state of pension programs, the institute’s Craig Copeland explained the survey, which at 28 years is the longest running of its kind. It measures worker and retiree confidence about retirement and includes 2,042 Americans -- 1,002 workers and 1,040 retirees. (The margin of error is 3.2 percentage points for all workers and 3.1 for all retirees.)

Among the key findings:

  • Retirement confidence isn’t at all-time lows, but is lower than it was in the 1990s and 2000s. Of all workers, only 17 percent are “very confident” they will “have enough money to live comfortably throughout your retirement years.”
  • The confidence number for those already in retirement is higher: 32 percent.
  • The percentage of those who are “very or somewhat confident” is much higher – two-thirds or more, when looking at workers or retirees.
  • Retirees are now less confident than they were earlier that they will have enough for basic expenses, medical expenses or long-term care, should they need it.

But are many of those people kidding themselves? The survey found that nearly 40 percent of retirees have more than $250,000 in savings – but that means 60 percent don’t. And $250,000 won’t be enough for many retirees, if they don’t have decent Social Security income or guaranteed pension income. And fewer and fewer people have pension income.

Also, as Copeland noted: About 80 percent of workers expect to keep working for pay after retiring, but just 30 percent of retirees actually do so.

“People seem to be counting on working later to make up for any deficiencies they have,” Copeland said. “But people really don’t go back to work after retirement. … People get sick, something happens with their company, they get downsized or their skills are not what the company needs anymore.”