Americans suffer high anxiety about retirement

March 8, 2011 at 11:48 AM ET

Worried you're not saving enough money for retirement? You’re not alone.

Roughly seven out of eight Americans believe that the nation’s retirement system is broken, and they worry that a weak economy and volatile stock market make it impossible to keep their own retirement plan on track.

Even as some state governments consider trimming public employee pensions, most Americans also support the idea of government incentives to encourage employers to provide traditional defined-benefit pensions. Anti-pension statehouse protests aside, three out of four Americans blame the decline of traditional pensions for their retirement insecurity, according to a survey by the National Institute on Retirement Security (NIRS), a group of financial services companies, retirement plan sponsors and trade associations.

Four out of five respondents told NIRS that they think Washington is clueless about the problem and should make a higher priority of rebuilding the private pension system.

The high level of retirement anxiety shouldn’t come as a surprise. As Congress mulls cutting in Social Security benefits to balance the federal budget, many American households have little or no savings to fall back on. Even those who have set up their own 401(k) account are likely to come up short: half of those aged 60 to 62 with a 401(k) account have stashed away less than a quarter of what they’ll need to maintain their standard of living in retirement, according to NIRS.

High anxiety is also reshaping the idea of what it means to be “retired.”

About one-third of survey respondents said they figure a “secure” retirement means just being able to live comfortably into old age. Only one in ten expects retirement will include travel, going out to restaurants, hobbies or leisure activities.