The Employee Benefits Research Institute is getting ready to conduct its annual Retirement Confidence Survey, and barring any unforeseen crisis, the 2015 study should show a further slight gain in consumer confidence.
That certainly sounds like good news. But in reality, it only is for one type of respondent to the annual study, those American workers that have access to a retirement plan of some type. Too many still don’t, and for them, the retirement future still looks bleak, according to Jack VanDerhai, research director at the EBRI and co-author of the annual retirement study.
EBRI has been conducting the annual Retirement Confidence Survey for years, and for much of the recent period, the news hasn’t been good, VanDerhai explains. The percentage of workers confident about having enough money for a comfortable retirement reached record lows between 2009 and 2013, as workers watched the values in their retirement accounts plummet in the stock market and many lost jobs.
With the economy slowly rebounding, the picture began to improve in 2013, and even more so this year. Eighteen percent of those surveyed in 2014 said they were now very confident, up from 13 percent in 2013.
“For those that have retirement accounts, either employee contribution or IRAs, I think you find an increase in optimism as the market rebounded,” VanDerhai said. “The year isn’t over yet, but assuming that nothing particularly negative happens in the markets between now and then, I would assume that we have another overall increase in confidence, reflecting the fact that they’re seeing those account balances continue to increase.”
But for those American workers who are not fortunate enough to work for employers offering a retirement plan or 401k, or who haven’t invested in IRAs privately, don’t expect to see any increase in confidence, VanDerhai says. That is why he recommends that the public look at the EBRI study as a measurement of two distinctly different populations – the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots.’
“It really helps to start by [splitting] that question into those that work for employers that sponsor a retirement plan and those that don’t,” VanDerhai said. When you do that, you see very different results, he added.
Take the question of how much a typical worker has saved toward retirement. The public and the media are always quickly drawn to the results of those workers that lack a retirement plan. But that is only half the story.
“The column that always catches everyone’s attention is the incredibly large percentage of individuals with less than $1,000, less than $10,000 or less than $50,000 saved. When you break it out by those with or without a retirement plan of some sort, obviously you have a huge difference,” VanDerhei said.