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Most Americans struggle to save for retirement

The idea of retirement in the U.S. often conjures up images of fit seniors strolling along the beach, enjoying a leisurely round of golf or perhaps sharing a meal in an exotic locale. For most people, however, the reality is far less glamorous.

Seven of 10 Americans who haven't retired yet find it hard to save for retirement while also paying the bills and meeting their basic living expenses, a new CBS News poll shows. Not surprisingly, those earning less are having more difficulty setting money aside. More than 80 percent of people making less than $50,000 a year say it is hard to keep up with bills and save for retirement at the same time, and half say it is very hard.

"There is a segment of the population who cannot afford food and rent and to save for retirement, and they rationally choose rent and food over retirement savings," said Anthony Webb, senior research economist with Boston College's Center for Retirement Research.

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But the country's troubling shortfall in retirement savings isn't confined to lower-income earners. More than 60 percent of those earning between $50,000 and $100,000 a year say it is hard to save for retirement, according to the telephone poll of more than 1,000 adults around the U.S.

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As of 2010, just over half of private-sector workers had access to a retirement plan at work, according to Demos, a liberal-leaning public policy think-tank. Meanwhile, data from the National Institute on Retirement Security shows that the median retirement account balance for all working-age households in the U.S. is $3,000, and $12,000 for families where earners are approaching retirement.

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The challenge of saving money seems to be eroding Americans' confidence that they will be financially prepared to retire. In thinking about their nest eggs, 61 percent of those polled expressed anxiety about their level of savings, while roughly a third said they feel secure.

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Again, such sentiments vary widely by income: 77 percent of people earning six figures or more are confident they are saving enough for retirement, while more than half of those with annual income of $50,000-$100,000 express confidence. But that figure that drops to 36 percent for those with annual income of less than $50,000.

Asked what financial matters worry them the most, 24 percent of respondents cited saving for retirement, just behind paying their bills. Other financial priorities included paying off debt and paying for education.

Another source of concern centers on Social Security. More than 6 of 10 those polled who aren't yet retired do not expect the federal retirement program to deliver the benefits they expect.

Such fears may be misplaced, with many experts saying that any future funding gap in Social Security can be closed. But the poll does highlight just how dependent millions of Americans are on the program. Among retirees earning less than $50,000 a year, 67 percent say Social Security is their main source of income.

If there is a more positive note in the survey findings, it's that more people seem to appreciate the importance of planning for retirement. Fifty-nine percent of Americans who are not yet retired, including more than two-thirds of those 30 and older, report having started to save money for retirement. Who isn't saving? Chiefly young adults, and most workers making less than $50,000 a year.

Signs that many people are struggling to put money away for their golden years coincides with another key shift in the retirement landscape: Many more Americans expect to work later in life.

Just over half of those polled say they plan to retire at or before age 65, the traditional retirement age, down from 67 percent in 2005. Indeed, the percentage of Americans who expect to hit their seventies before they retire has nearly tripled over the last nine years, according to CBS News.

This poll was conducted by telephone May 14-18, 2014 among 1,011 adults nationwide. Data collection was conducted on behalf of CBS News by SSRS of Media, Pa. Phone numbers were dialed from samples of both standard land-line and cell phones. The error due to sampling for results based on the entire sample could be plus or minus three percentage points. The error due to sampling for Americans not yet retired could be plus or minus four percentage points. The error due to sampling for Americans already retired could be plus or minus five percentage points. Interviews were conducted in English and Spanish. This poll release conforms to the Standards of Disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

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