Confidence Builders

By Nevin Adams, EBRI

AdamsI’ll never forget my first day of driver’s ed class.  This was at a time when it was still part of the “regular” school curriculum, and we were placed in groups based on whether or not we had actually driven a car before.  Now, at the time, the extent of my driving was no more than backing the family car up and down our short driveway.  But driving looked easy enough, and my friends were in the “having driven” group, so I confidently “fudged” the extent of my experience and shortly found myself behind the wheel of the driver’s ed class car, along with my high school basketball coach/instructor and a couple of my friends in back.

To make a long story short, there was quite a bit of difference between backing a car up and down a driveway and navigating a car on the open road.  And, but for the extra brake on the instructor’s side of the vehicle, I might have spent my first driver’s ed class waiting to be pulled out of a ditch, my confidence notwithstanding.

The recent release of the 23rd annual Retirement Confidence Survey (RCS) got a LOT of attention.1  The headlines were mostly about Americans’ lack of confidence in their prospects for a financially secure retirement; indeed, the percentage “not at all confident” hit an all-time high for the RCS, while the percentage “very confident” remained at the all-time low it notched a year ago.  A striking number of inquiries about the report focused on what could be done about retirement confidence.

As it turns out, there are several things that the study linked to higher confidence: having more retirement savings is perhaps the most obvious connection, and so is participation in a workplace retirement savings plan (which was also linked to larger savings balances2).  However, the RCS also found that something as fundamental as having taken the time to do a retirement needs assessment made a positive difference in confidence3 – even though those who had done such an assessment tended to set higher savings goals.4  However, fewer than half of workers responding to the RCS have completed this assessment, and many of those who have made an attempt to figure out how much they might need – guess.5

Still, asked how much they need to save each year from now until they retire so they can live comfortably in retirement, one in five put that figure at between 20 percent and 29 percent, and nearly one-quarter (23 percent) cited a target of 30 percent or more.  Those targets are larger than one might expect, and larger than the savings reported by RCS respondents would indicate.  They do, however, suggest that some are beginning to grasp the realities of their situation – a realization that could be weighing on their confidence in the future, even as it lays the foundation for change.

Because, what really matters is not how confident you feel, but whether you have a reason to feel confident.

Notes

1 See The 2013 Retirement Confidence Survey: Perceived Savings Needs Outpace Reality for Many

2 According to the 2013 RCS , workers who participate in a retirement savings plan at work (45 percent) are considerably more likely than those who are offered a plan but choose not to participate (22 percent) or are not offered a plan (18 percent) to have saved at least $50,000. These participants are much less likely than others to report having saved less than $10,000 (20 percent vs. 46 percent who choose not to participate and 50 percent who are not offered a plan).

3 A great place to start figuring out what you’ll need is the BallparkE$timate®, available online at www.choosetosave.org.  Organizations interested in building/reinforcing a workplace savings campaign can find a variety of free resources there, courtesy of the American Savings Education Council (ASEC).  Choose to Save® is sponsored by the nonprofit, nonpartisan Employee Benefit Research Institute Education and Research Fund (EBRI-ERF) and one of its programs, the American Savings Education Council (ASEC). The website and materials development have been underwritten through generous grants and additional support from EBRI Members and ASEC Partner institutions.

4 The RCS found that 31 percent who have done a calculation, compared with 14 percent who have not, say they are very confident that they will be able to accumulate the amount they need, while 12 percent who have not done a calculation, compared with 3 percent who have, report they are not at all confident in their ability to save the needed amount.

5 Workers often guess at how much they will need to accumulate (45 percent), rather than doing a systematic, retirement needs calculation, according to the RCS, while 18 percent indicated they did their own estimate, another 18 percent asked a financial advisor, 8 percent used an on-line calculator, and another 8 percent read or heard how much was needed.

“Show” Time

By Nevin Adams, EBRI

Adams

Adams

Though there’s precious little worth watching on television these days, I’ll confess to having developed a fondness for the Sunday night shows that have sprung up all over cable television—series like Downton Abbey, Mad Men, Hell on Wheels, and yes, The Walking Dead. These not only keep me up on Sunday nights, but looking forward to the end of the weekend.

The “hiatus” gaps between these cable seasons are long enough that it can be hard to remember where the story line left off, though these days the standard seems to be to pick up the characters’ lives at a different point in time. Downton Abbey closes one season at the start of WWI, and opens the next in the middle of that conflict, for example—or Mad Men closes a season with the key characters having decided to split off from a stifling new British parent firm, and the next season opens with their new venture already operating as a full-fledged advertising firm. These storyline “jumps” can be a bit disorienting, but time (and the storyline) marches on.

A year ago, the Retirement Confidence Survey, conducted by EBRI and Greenwald & Associates, found that Americans’ confidence in their ability to afford a comfortable retirement was weighed down by concerns about the economy and job security, “stagnant” at record low levels. Those who participated in workplace retirement savings plans were more confident, as were those who had taken the time to estimate their retirement savings needs. A growing number of current workers were planning to work past the traditional retirement age of 65—and yet, in reality, most current retirees had left the workforce earlier than planned, usually for reasons beyond their control.

Since then, we’ve had a presidential election, seen the Supreme Court uphold a new federal health care law, crept up to the edge of a fiscal cliff (and stumbled back a bit), seen unemployment rates stabilize, and stock markets gain ground. How might those events impact or influence Americans’ preparations or retirement confidence? Have they sought—and followed—professional guidance? How much DO Americans think they need to save? And how much progress have they made?

For almost a quarter-century now—with no hiatus—the RCS has meticulously tracked the evolving trends in Americans’ confidence about retirement. Next week we’ll unveil the results of the 23rd annual Retirement Confidence Survey (RCS), the longest-running annual retirement survey of its kind in the nation. You can count on it providing some fascinating insights on where workers and retirees are, where they’ve been, and where we all need to be—with a growing sense of where we want to be tomorrow.

Note: The results of the 2013 Retirement Confidence Survey (RCS) will be available at 8 a.m. ET on Tuesday, March 19, at www.ebri.org  Information and findings from prior surveys are available at www.ebri.org/surveys/rcs/2012/

EBRI’s Retirement Confidence Survey to be Released March 19

On Tuesday, March 19, 2013, the nonpartisan Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) and Mathew Greenwald & Associates, Inc., will release results of the 2013 Retirement Confidence Survey (RCS), the nation’s longest-running and most comprehensive study of the attitudes and behavior of American workers and retirees toward all aspects of saving, retirement planning, and long-term financial security.

This is the 23rd annual RCS and will contain long-term trend data going back to earlier RCS results. Recent waves of the RCS have measured record-low levels of public confidence in the ability to afford retirement.

A teleconfrence briefing for the news media will be held 11:00–11:30 a.m. E.T. TUESDAY, MARCH 19. Reporters wishing to join the conference call or get RCS materials should contact Steve Blakely, EBRI, blakely@ebri.org, 202/775-6341.

Question “Mark”

By Nevin Adams, EBRI

Adams

Next month we’ll enter the final full month of the 2012 election cycle with a series of presidential (and one vice presidential) debates. Pundits claim these don’t have much impact on the election’s outcome, but millions of Americans will likely tune in anyway, either to help them make a decision, to reinforce the one they made months ago, or perhaps just for the prospect of seeing a historic gaffe. The answers, of course, will receive the most scrutiny, though as any journalist (or pollster) will tell you, the art lies in asking the “right” question.

In the not-too-distant future, EBRI will, in conjunction with Matt Greenwald & Associates, Inc., field the 2013 Retirement Confidence Survey.¹ Over its 23-year history, the RCS has examined the attitudes and behavior of American workers and retirees toward all aspects of saving, retirement planning, and long-term financial security. The survey itself—the longest-running survey of its kind in the nation—is meaningful both for the kinds of issues it deals with and the trends it measures: It’s tracked a “new normal,” where workers adjust their expectations about the transition to retirement; examined both age and gender differences on saving and planning for retirement; tracked attitudes about Social Security and Medicare; and compared expectations about retirement to the realities.²

Not surprisingly, coverage of the survey by the media continues to be quite extensive. The 2012 RCS was released on March 13, 2012,³ and partial tracking (to Sept. 5, 2012) found the 2012 RCS mentioned in 50 newspapers, 26 periodicals, 35 web-based outlets, 22 broadcast outlets (including CNN Money, CNBC.com, and CBS News), as well as eight newswire services.

Significantly, the RCS doesn’t merely deal with confidence as a “feeling,” but also at the criteria that underlie and influence that sentiment. It looks at the perspective both of those already in retirement, as well as those still working and heading toward that milestone, and does so with the perspective of research that has focused on those issues for more than two decades. It also (with a perspective based on more than 20 years of conducting this particular survey) offers insights on how those feelings and factors have changed over time.

From past experience, we know that how individuals view—and anticipate—retirement can have a dramatic impact on that reality. Each year the RCS research team, in collaboration with the survey’s advisory board of underwriters, meets to consider not only past trends and the present environment, but also future developments, as we seek to craft the right set of questions to help explore and expand our collective understanding of these critical issues.

As with many things in life, when it comes to planning for retirement, it’s hard to know what the right answer is if you aren’t asking the right questions.

P.S. The Retirement Confidence Survey is funded through subscriptions. In 2012, there were 26 subscribers (see the full list online here),  which keeps the cost down to $7,500 per subscriber. If you’re interested in supporting and being part of the planning for the 2013 RCS, please email me.

 Notes

¹ The need and demand for reliable data about America’s retirement system, and worker/retiree post-career readiness for retirement has never been greater. If you’d like to know more, or participate as an underwriter of this important survey, please email Nevin Adams. A list of the 2012 RCS Underwriters is available online here. 

² Information from prior editions of the Retirement Confidence Survey is available online here. 

³ Data from the 2012 RCS is available online here. 

“Last” Chances

By Nevin Adams, EBRI

While many Americans seem to lack a definitive sense of what living in retirement will be like, how long it will last, or how much it will cost, their sense of when it will begin has been trending older.  The 2012 Retirement Confidence Survey (RCS) noted that, whereas in 1991, just 11 percent of workers expected to retire after age 65, in 2012, more than three times as many (37 percent) report they expect to wait until after age 65 to retire—and most of those indicated an expected retirement age of 70 or older.1

Those expecting to delay retirement perhaps found solace in a recent report by the Center for Retirement Research (CRR) at Boston College which concluded that by postponing retirement until age 70, the vast majority of households (86 percent) were “…projected to be prepared for retirement.”

That sounds good – but what about the assumptions underlying that conclusion?

In 2003, the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) constructed the EBRI-ERF Retirement Security Projection Model® (RSPM)—the first nationally representative, micro-simulation model based on actual 401(k) participant behavior and a stochastic decumulation model.  And though we have explicitly recognized that many individuals were retiring at earlier ages, a retirement age of 65 was chosen for baseline results, based upon the assumption that most workers would have the flexibility to work until that age, if they so chose.

Last year we modified the RSPM to determine whether just “working a few more years after age 65” would indeed be a feasible financial solution for those determined to be “at risk.”  Unfortunately, for those counting on that as a retirement savings “solution”, the answer is not always “yes.”

Indeed, results from the EBRI modeling indicated that the lowest pre-retirement income quartile would need to defer retirement to age 84 before 90 percent of the households would have even a break-even (50‒50) chance of success.

Working longer does help, of course.  A recent EBRI Notes article titled “Is Working to Age 70 Really the Answer for Retirement Income Adequacy?2” finds that 23 percent of those who would have been at risk of running out money in retirement if they retired at age 65 would be “ready to retire” if they kept working to 70.  Better still, if those individuals are assumed not only to delay retirement, but also to keep participating in a defined contribution plan, a full third of those who would have been at risk of running short of money if they retired at age 65 would be “ready” to retire at age 70.3

What accounts for the difference in the projections?  For a household to be classified as “ready for retirement” under the CRR method, a projected replacement rate is simply compared with a benchmark rate, while the RSPM uses a fully developed stochastic decumulation process to determine whether a family will run short of money in retirement (and, if so, at what age) under each of a thousand alternative, simulated retirement paths.  Unlike the CRR model, EBRI’s RSPM model simultaneously considers the impact of longevity risk, investment risk, and the risk of potentially catastrophic health care costs (such as prolonged stays in a nursing home).5

Which, as it so happens, are the same things that those trying to make sure they have enough money to last through retirement—and those trying to help them do so—need to consider.

Notes

1 see “Is Working to Age 70 Really the Answer for Retirement Income Adequacy?

2 Also from the above article, “It’s worth nothing that a significant portion of the improvement in readiness takes place in the first four years after age 65, but that tends to level off in the early 70s before picking up in the late 70s and early 80s.  Higher-income households would be in a much better situation: 90 percent of the highest-income quartile would already have a 50 percent probability of success by age 65, while those in the next-highest income quartile would need to wait until age 72 for 90 percent of their group to have a 50 percent probability. Those in the second-lowest income quartile would need to wait until age 81 before 90 percent of their group had a 50 percent probability of success. 

3 At the same time, the percentage of workers expecting to retire before age 65 has decreased from 50 percent in 1991 to 24 percent (see this EBRI analysis, online here).  A sizable proportion of retirees report each year that they retired sooner than they had planned (50 percent in 2012). Those who retire early often do so for negative reasons, such as a health problem or disability (51 percent) or company downsizing or closure (21 percent).  The 2011 RCS found that the poor economy (36 percent), lack of faith in Social Security or the government (16 percent) and a change in employment situation (15 percent) were the most frequently cited reasons for postponing retirement.

4. For more on how this modeling works, see “Single Best Answer.”

5 For an explanation of four things that are sometimes overlooked by retirement-needs projection models, see “Generation ‘Gaps,’” online here.

“Storm” Warnings

By Nevin Adams, EBRI

Adams

Amidst the recent coverage of Hurricane Isaac, I was reminded that it was only a year ago that Hurricane Irene came barreling up the East Coast. We had just deposited my youngest off for his first semester of college, and then spent the drive home up the East Coast with Irene (and the reports of her potential destruction and probable landfalls) close behind. We arrived home, unloaded in record time, and went straight to the local hardware store to stock up for the coming storm.

We weren’t the only ones to do so, of course. And what we had most hoped to acquire (a generator) was not to be found—there, or at that moment, apparently anywhere in the state.

What made that situation all the more infuriating was that, while the prospect of a hurricane landfall was relatively unique, we had, on several prior occasions, been without power, and for extended periods. After each I had told myself that we really needed to invest in a generator—but, as human beings are inclined to do, thinking that I had time to do so when it was more convenient, I simply (and repeatedly) postponed taking action.

Life is full of uncertainty, and events and circumstances, as often as not, happen with little, if any warning. However, hurricanes you can see coming a long way off. There’s always the chance that they will peter out sooner than expected, that landfall will result in a dramatic shift in course and/or intensity, or that, as with Hurricane Katrina, the real impact is what happens afterward. In theory, at least, that provides time to prepare—but, as I was reminded a year ago, sometimes you don’t have time enough.

I suppose a lot of retirement plan participants are going to look back at their working lives that way as they near the threshold of retirement. They’ll likely remember the admonitions about saving sooner, saving more, and the importance of regular, prudent reallocations of investment portfolios. The Retirement Confidence Survey (RCS) has, for years now, chronicled not only the current state of retirement unpreparedness of many, but their awareness of the need to be more attentive to those preparations. Sure, you can find yourself forced suddenly into an unplanned retirement—in fact, retiree respondents to the RCS have long indicated that they stopped working sooner than they had planned.¹ But most of us have plenty of time, both to see that day coming, and to do something about it.

Ultimately, of course, what matters isn’t the time you have, it’s what you do² with it.

Notes

¹ Twenty-five percent of workers in the 2012 Retirement Confidence Survey say the age at which they expect to retire has changed in the past year. In 1991, 11 percent of workers said they expected to retire after age 65, and by 2012 that more than tripled, to 37 percent. Those expectations notwithstanding, half of current retirees surveyed say they left the work force unexpectedly due to health problems, disability, or changes at their employer, such as downsizing or closure (see “The 2012 Retirement Confidence Survey: Job Insecurity, Debt Weigh on Retirement Confidence, Savings,” online here).

² A great place to start those preparations is to figure out what you’ll need, as millions of Americans have with the BallparkE$timate,® developed by the research team at the Employee Benefit Research Institute, and available online here.

Additionally, a wide variety of free tools and innovative resources, including free videos that can be used to share key savings messages with participants, is available here.

“Counter” Intuitive?

 By Nevin Adams, EBRI

Adams

When one considers the impact of changes in tax policy on retirement plan savings, it is perhaps natural to assume that those who pay more taxes would respond to changes in the taxation of their contributions and/or savings. However, what’s probably not as obvious to many is that lower-income workers could also be significantly impacted. Indeed, as noted in the March 2011 EBRI Notes, “…behavioral economics has shown that the reaction of employees in situations similar to this are often at odds with what would have been predicted by an objective concerned simply with optimizing a financial strategy.”(1)

As part of the 2011 Retirement Confidence Survey, workers were asked about the importance of tax deferrals in encouraging them to save for retirement. Quoting from the November 2011 EBRI Issue Brief, “If one were to look at this from a strictly financial perspective, one would assume that the lower-income individuals (those most likely to pay no or low marginal tax rates and therefore have a smaller financial incentive to deduct retirement savings contributions from taxable income) would be least likely to rate this as ‘very important.’ However, those in the lowest household income category ($15,000 to less than $25,000) actually have the largest percentage of respondents classifying the tax deductibility of contributions as very important (76.2 percent).”

Additionally, asked how they would likely respond if their ability to defer those taxes was eliminated, it was the lowest-income category ($15,000 to less than $25,000) that reacted most negatively—with 56.7 percent indicating they would reduce the amount they would save in these plans (see more, online here).

As part of the 2012 Retirement Confidence Survey,(2) participants were asked about their likely response to a different set of federal tax modifications included in a specific proposal. (3) Those participant responses were subsequently integrated with those of plan sponsor respondents to a 2011 AllianceBernstein survey(4) to the changes contemplated under that same proposal. The proposal author’s analysis had largely assumed status quo in terms of plan design changes (by plan sponsors) and contribution flows (by both individual participants and employers) in response to those changes.

In fact, the average percentage reduction for 401(k) participants in the two smallest plan size categories (less than $1 million and $1–$10 million in assets) were more than 1.5 times the value of the average percentage reduction for participants in any of the larger plan-size categories (regardless of the income level of the 401(k) participants). Striking as those results are, there is a ripple effect on participant savings to be considered as well.

A new EBRI study uses the EBRI-ERF Retirement Security Projection Model® (RSPM), and with a database of tens of thousands of 401(k) plans and millions of participant accounts, to provide baseline analysis. That analysis indicates that the cumulative impact of reported plan sponsor modifications and individual participant reactions would result in an average percentage reduction in 401(k) balances of between 6–22 percent at Social Security normal retirement age for workers currently ages 26–35. That analysis also indicates that an even larger average percentage accumulation reduction would result for participants in small plans.(5)

Those participant and plan sponsor responses may be counter-intuitive to some—but it’s the type of response, and impact, that shouldn’t be overlooked.

Endnotes

(1) See “The Impact of Modifying the Exclusion of Employee Contributions for Retirement Savings Plans From Taxable Income: Results from the 2011 Retirement Confidence Survey,” online here.

(2) See “The 2012 Retirement Confidence Survey: Job Insecurity, Debt Weigh on Retirement Confidence, Savings,” online here.

(3) It’s not the first time EBRI has undertaken such an analysis, of course. EBRI has looked at preliminary evidence of the impact of these “20/20 caps” on projected retirement accumulations under a set of assumptions—see “Capping Tax-Preferred Retirement Contributions: Preliminary Evidence of the Impact of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform Recommendations,” online here, and “Tax Reform Options: Promoting Retirement Security,” EBRI Issue Brief, No. 364, November 2011, online here. EBRI also provided testimony before the Senate Finance Committee on the issue, online here.

Research Director Jack VanDerhei also submitted testimony to the Senate Finance Committee on “The Impact of Modifying the Exclusion of Employee Contributions for Retirement Savings Plans From Taxable Income: Results From the 2011 Retirement Confidence Survey,” online here.

(4) AllianceBernstein, 2011, “Inside the Minds of Plan Sponsors” Research.

(5) That integration of sentiment with EBRI’s extensive 401(k) database and modeling capabilities provided a unique perspective on the full potential impact of these changes on cumulative savings amounts, which was outlined in our recent March 2012 EBRI Notes article, “Modifying the Federal Tax Treatment of 401(k) Plan Contributions: Projected Impact on Participant Account Balances,” online here.

“Good” Vibrations

By Nevin Adams, EBRI

Adams

Last week the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) and Mathew Greenwald & Associates, Inc., unveiled the 22nd annual Retirement Confidence Survey (RCS).

Among the things we have learned after doing this survey for more than two decades: People’s confidence about retirement frequently seems out of line with the financial resources they indicate they have on hand to fund it. Of course, most (56%) of this year’s respondents admit neither they nor their spouse have made even a single attempt to determine how much they need to achieve that comfortable retirement—so it shouldn’t be too surprising that, asked how much they think they need to have saved in order to provide for a comfortable retirement, many hold forth a number that seems lower than some might expect.

While we spent a fair amount of time this week discussing the results with reporters, one question that came up repeatedly was “Why do you do this survey?  What do you hope people take from it?”

The survey itself is meaningful both for the kinds of issues it deals with and the trends it measures: Questions that, as in this year’s RCS, deal not just with confidence as a “feeling” but also the criteria that underlie and influence that sentiment. It looks at the perspective both of those already in retirement, as well as those still working and heading toward that milestone. It also (with a perspective based on two decades of conducting this particular survey) offers insights on how those feelings and factors have changed over time.

Those good reasons notwithstanding, this past week EBRI reminded reporters that the RCS has found that people who have taken the time to do a retirement needs assessment are generally more confident than those who haven’t done so, and not necessarily because they find that they are in better shape than they’d thought. In fact, most report that they set higher savings goals AFTER they had done the assessment—and were THEN more confident in their situation. That is why EBRI joined many others in 1995 to establish the American Savings Education Council (ASEC), and then the ChoosetoSave® program and the BallparkE$timate.®  Millions of Americans have used the BallparkE$timate® at www.choosetosave.org to help them climb the hill to savings and greater financial security, and—according to the RCS—a more realistic view of the future.

There’s something to be said for knowing the size and extent of what was previously unknown, particularly when it comes to setting a financial goal as complex as planning for retirement can seem.

If the annual publication of the RCS does no more than remind individuals of the importance of taking the time to do so, then it’s not only good information—it’s information that does some good.

Full results of the 2012 Retirement Confidence Survey (RCS), along with the press release and seven related RCS Fact Sheets,  are now available online here. 

The 2012 RCS:Job Insecurity, Debt Weigh on Retirement Confidence, Savings

Americans’ confidence in their ability to afford a comfortable retirement is stagnant at historically low levels in the face of more immediate financial concerns about job uncertainty and debt, according to the 22nd annual Retirement Confidence Survey (RCS), the longest-running annual survey of its kind in the nation.

Asked to name the most pressing financial issue facing Americans today, both workers and retirees were more likely to identify job uncertainty. “Americans’ retirement confidence has plateaued at the lowest levels we’ve seen in two decades of conducting this survey,” said Jack VanDerhei, EBRI research director and co-author of the report.

Many workers report they have virtually no savings and investments, and workers’ expected age of retirement continues to rise, according to the RCS. However, one area in which Americans are saving for retirement is an employer-sponsored retirement savings plan, such as a 401(k). In fact, 81 percent of eligible workers (38 percent of all workers) say they contribute to such a plan with their current employer, according to the RCS.

These and other findings are contained in the 22nd annual RCS, conducted by the nonpartisan Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) and Mathew Greenwald & Associates, Inc. Full results of the 2012 RCS are published in the March 2012 EBRI Issue Brief, released today and online at www.ebri.org 

The EBRI website also has several RCS-related fact sheets, online here. 

The EBRI press release is online here.

“Managing” Expectations

By Nevin Adams, EBRI

Adams

On March 13,(1) the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) and Mathew Greenwald & Associates, Inc., will unveil the 22nd annual Retirement Confidence Survey (RCS)—the longest-running annual retirement survey of its kind in the nation. Indeed, the RCS is unique in offering a perspective on retirement that is now as long as the retirement at age 65 of those living to average life expectancy.

Consider that back in 1996, the sixth annual RCS found that 24 percent of retirees were not confident that they would have enough money to live comfortably throughout their retirement years, and more than 1 in 5 said their lifestyles were worse than when they first retired (with nearly 1 in 10 calling them “a lot worse”). The report noted that “[t]wo-thirds of those working then predicted they would work after they ‘retire,’ and nearly 40 percent of those say they think they’ll need to for financial reasons, to pay the bills and make ends meet.”

Five years later, the 2001 RCS  noted that the percentage of individuals who say they have personally saved for retirement decreased from 75 percent in 2000 to 71 percent, though that was still better than the 59 percent cited in 1998. At the time, the RCS noted that the “changes in individual behavior regarding retirement savings may in part be attributed to recent declines in consumer confidence, employment, the economy, and the equity markets.”

While a press release about the 2006 RCS stated that “RCS data over the past 12 years continue to show that retirement confidence overall among workers does not seem to be affected by either stock market performance or varying economic conditions,” subsequent events—notably the 2008 financial crisis—did seem to undermine confidence levels.

The 2010 RCS acknowledged that Americans’ confidence in their ability to afford a comfortable retirement had plunged to a new low at the same time that the recent declines in other retirement confidence indicators appeared to be “stabilizing.” And yet, just one year later, the 2011 RCS cautioned, “Instead of making fundamental adjustments to their spending and saving patterns in response to the decline in confidence, workers continue to change their expectations.”

How we view—and anticipate—retirement can have a dramatic impact on that reality, and the RCS provides valuable insights into the perspectives of those heading toward, and those already dealing with, the realities of retirement.

What matters, of course, isn’t one’s confidence about having a financially secure retirement. What matters is having taken the time and energy to actually do something about it.

Endnote

(1) Full results of the 2012 RCS will be available online at www.ebri.org the morning of Tuesday, March 13.