With many Americans failing to put aside enough money for their golden years, a significant number are banking on plan B: working past the traditional retirement age of 65.
But workers' expectations and retirees' actual behavior aren't meshing, according to the 25th annual Retirement Confidence Survey from the nonprofit Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI). Even though more than one-third of workers now say they'll retire after the age of 65 -- up from just 11 percent in 1991 -- the actual median retirement age has been stuck at 62 throughout that time period.
That may pour a bucket of cold water on a lot of workers' plans, especially for the 45 percent of Americans and their spouses who have less than $10,000 in retirement savings put aside. The reality: Unexpected setbacks often push older workers out of the employment pool, including hardships like disabilities or having to care for another family member, EBRI found. About 50 percent of retirees leave the workforce earlier than planned, the study said.
"One reason for the gap between workers' expectations and retirees' experience is many Americans find themselves retiring unexpectedly," the report noted. "The financial consequences of an unplanned early retirement can be heavy. Retirees who retire earlier than planned are more likely than those who retire when expected or later to say they are not confident about having enough money for a comfortable retirement or about paying for basic expenses, medical expenses, and long-term care expenses."
While Americans are often blamed for failing to have the financial discipline to set aside money for their retirements, the causes are much more complex, according to a March study from the Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis at the New School. Almost half of Americans who were working in 2011 lacked a work-sponsored retirement plan, while the availability of employer-sponsored retirement plans has dropped by eight percentage points, to just 53 percent, between 1999 to 2011, the report found.
"Most U.S. workers will find themselves realizing low income replacement rates despite their best efforts to save for retirement," the report added.
Not only are fewer employers offering retirement plans, those that do have shifted away from pension-type plans in favor of 401(k) plans that don't require workers participate. That means workers are heading toward retirement age with a lack of assets at the ready. About one-third of current workers between the ages of 55 to 64 are likely to be poor or near poor in retirement, the Schwartz Center report found.
Most workers would probably opt to retire earlier if they could afford it, but the fact is that most Americans just aren't prepared. Only about two out of 10 workers are very confident about having enough money to live in retirement, the EBRI study found. That does represent an improvement from 2013, when only one in 10 workers had confidence about a comfortable retirement, but it still means many Americans are viewing their retirement years with anxiety.
Feeling unprepared for retirement could be fueling Americans' expectations that they'll work for pay even when they're officially retired. About two-thirds of workers today say they plan to engage in some paid work after they retire, EBRI found. Yet the group's research indicates that reality isn't jibing with those workers' plans, given that only 23 percent of retirees actually end up working for pay.
While 83 percent of those who find employment after retirement say they're doing so because they enjoy it, financial stress continues to push seniors to find paying work after retirement. More than half said they were working for pay because they needed to make ends meet, EBRI found.
The message from the other side of the retirement threshold: Retire early if you can afford it, according to a survey of recent retirees conducted by New York Life Insurance Co. The problem is, however, that few have reached that milestone. The Schwartz Center found that 54 percent of near-retirement households have too little saved and will depend on Social Security and pension money to make ends meet after they retire.