America—and more specifically, Americans—are getting older.

Of course, that in itself is not ‘news’, in that we are all growing older each day. But collectively, the American populace is aging, and millions of ‘Baby Boomers’—those born between 1946-1964—are either already in, or about to enter, their ‘retirement years’.

In many ways, that reality is transforming the way millions of Americans think about their workplace benefits, their personal savings and spending, and indeed their future.

In the wake of the Great Recession, there is also a residual concern among a great many current and soon-to-be retirees about their future income security.

A recent survey by the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) found there is a certain degree of dichotomy at play in American workers’ attitudes towards their retirement prospects.

According to the EBRI’s 25th Annual Retirement Confidence Survey, American workers and retirees are starting to have greater confidence in their ability to afford retirement—while at the same time, the survey found many are not taking the necessary financial steps to secure their retirement.

The EBRI survey’s findings of increased confidence stands in stark contrast to the levels of retirement confidence expressed between 2009 and 2013, at which time American confidence levels in their retirement hit record lows. The survey also found that there is a growing divide in confidence between American workers (and their spouses) who have retirement accounts and those who do not. According to the survey, workers with access to retirement accounts such as 401(K) or Defined Benefit plans believe they will be able to save enough for retirement.

However, the survey found that 44 percent of workers without any retirement accounts are “not at all confident” about their retirement years; by comparison, a lack of confidence in retirement was found in only 14 percent of workers who do have retirement accounts. The survey also revealed that American workers’ confidence in their ability to afford retirement began to grow in early 2014, after several years—during and after the Great Recession—when confidence in retirement was very low.

For example, confidence among retirees—which the report says is historically higher than among those still awaiting retirement—rose to 37 percent stating that they were “very confident” in their retirement, a considerable jump from 2013’s “very confident” level of 25 percent.

There is also good reason to believe that the substantially stronger employment numbers in the last few years have had a positive impact on the confidence level of Americans, as it pertains to their retirement prospects; with a substantial number of American companies also contributing to their employees’ retirement plans—most commonly 401(K)s—Americans who gained employment in the last few years may also be feeling more confident in their future retirement.

Still, the survey also found that not all the retirement news—or prospects—are bright. Specifically, it found that workers without retirement plans also tend to have very low savings levels, and only a minority of them are taking specific measures aimed at meeting their retirement needs.

According to the survey only 23 percent of those without a retirement plan have done any retirement needs calculation. Also troubling was the finding that 64 percent without a retirement plan say they have saved less $1,000.00

The EBRI survey found that while many American workers say they will likely be working longer than they originally had planned, there were many others who took an early retirement that had been unplanned as a result of events beyond their control, such as job losses.

In 2015’s increasingly competitive employment market, American employers are also often using their benefits packages—including contributions to employee retirement plans—as an important recruitment tool.
In fact, according to the survey, one of the primary vehicles that workers use to save for retirement is an employer-sponsored retirement savings plan, such as a 401(k). About 71 percent of employed workers report they are offered such a plan by their current employer, and more than three-quarters (83 per-cent) of eligible employees (40 percent of all workers) say they contribute money to their employer’s plan.

Still, the depths of the Great Recession forced many Americans to reach into their retirement savings simply to pay their bills, and experts estimate that it may take many of those workers several years to rebuild their retirement accounts to pre-recessionary levels.

As America’s workforce ages, and a majority of Baby Boomers enter their retirement years, the critical importance of employer-sponsored retirement plans is certain to grow.

Less certain, however, is whether the retirement savings of the majority of American workers will grow large enough to meet those considerable retirement needs.