NU Online News Service, Nov. 17, 2003, 3:40 p.m. EST — Many Americans feel more upbeat and less fearful about their financial futures than last year’s respondents to a survey by the Manufacturers Life Insurance Company (U.S.A.), Boston, a unit of Manulife Financial, Toronto.

Manulife’s second annual “Financial Dreams and Fears of American Workers” study found that half of all American workers still have not tried to calculate how much money they need to save for retirement.

Of those who have tried to set a retirement savings goal, however, 83% said this exercise had a moderate to large impact on moving them closer to their dream of a comfortable retirement. Only 61% say that regular saving each month without a set goal has this kind of impact.

The percentage of workers who say they are behind schedule or have not started saving for retirement shrunk from 75% in 2002 to 67% in 2003, Manulife found. Moreover, 70% said having a comfortable retirement is one of their top two financial dreams, up from 61% in 2002.

“Workers can have their dreams of a financially comfortable retirement come true, but they clearly have to do more to make that happen,” says Mathew Greenwald, president of Mathew Greenwald & Associates, Washington, the firm that conducted the research for Manulife.

The 2003 survey shows more optimism than the previous year’s results. For example, there was an increase of 8% in the number of workers who think they are doing a good job saving money, with 41% stating they feel excellent or very good about it. In addition, 38% think the economy will get better over the next 12 months, compared to 24% who think it will get worse.

Twenty-eight percent said they have grown more comfortable with investing in equities, while only 19% expressed increased comfort investing in more conservative financial products like certificates of deposit.

The average worker had 5.2 financial fears out of nine such fears measured by the survey, down from 5.6 in 2002.

One conclusion from the survey: Plan sponsors may find it easier to reengage workers in retirement planning, suggests Manulife.

The study was based on a random survey in August of 300 people across the United States over age 21 who are working full or part time in companies with five or more employees.