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Market rebounds, but retirement confidence doesn’t

Pressing needs such as paying medical bills often cut savings rates.

Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press

Pressing needs such as paying medical bills often cut savings rates.

Workers appear to have little faith that the economic recovery and the stock market’s climb have left them better prepared for retirement.

Confidence in the ability to afford a comfortable retirement remains at the same record low level recorded in 2011 and is slightly lower than it was last year, according to the Employee Benefit Research Institute, which has done the poll for 23 years.

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Nearly half of workers surveyed in January had little or no confidence they will have a financially comfortable retirement, EBRI said Tuesday. Twenty-eight percent were not at all confident — the highest level recorded since the survey began in 1991. About 13 percent were very confident and 38 percent somewhat confident, figures that weren’t substantially greater than the record lows in the 2011 survey.

If there’s any positive takeaway, it’s that researchers believe workers who are the least prepared for retirement have become increasingly aware that they need to save more.

In 2007, for example, confidence numbers were substantially higher before the economy sank into recession. Seventy percent were either somewhat or very confident.

The decline in recent years suggests ‘‘a much higher degree of realism’’ about the need to save more, said Jack VanDerhei, the EBRI’s research director and coauthor of the report. That could explain why confidence remains low, despite the economy’s gains and a market rally that lifted the Dow Jones industrial average to a record high two weeks ago.

Despite the realization they are not saving enough, people have short-term financial needs that are so pressing that long-term goals become secondary.

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‘‘Job security and financial security continue to be Americans’ major concerns, not retirement,’’ VanDerhei said. In addition, workers ‘‘lack confidence in their ability to pay for medical expenses, and even basics such as food, clothing, and shelter.’’

The survey was cosponsored by the EBRI and Matthew Greenwald & Associates, a market research firm. About 1,000 workers 25 and older and 250 retirees were randomly chosen for phone interviews in January. The statistical margin of error is plus or minus 3 percentage points.

The researchers concluded that fewer than half of workers appear to be taking basic steps needed to prepare for retirement. For example, 46 percent of those surveyed reported they or their spouse had tried to estimate how much they will need to save by retirement.

Two percent of workers and 4 percent of retirees said saving or planning for retirement was the most pressing financial issue Americans face.

Both groups were most likely to identify job uncertainty as the most pressing concern (30 percent of workers and 27 percent of retirees) followed by meeting day-to-day needs (12 percent for each group).

Participants cited the cost of living and daily expenses as key reasons why workers don’t contribute to workplace savings plans such as 401(k)s or don’t contribute enough.

Fifty-five percent of workers and 39 percent of retirees reported having a problem with their debt levels.

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