Americans pessimistic about retirement

A poll by the Employee Benefit Research Institute shows that 28% of Americans are "not at all confident" they┬┐ll be able to have a comfortable retirement. (Mike Ehrmann / Getty Images)

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Nearly 3 in 10 Americans are extremely downbeat about their prospects for retirement, the highest level of pessimism ever recorded, according to a survey released Tuesday.

The poll by the Employee Benefit Research Institute showed that 28% of Americans are "not at all confident" they’ll be able to have a comfortable retirement. That’s up from 23% last year and the worst degree of pessimism in the nearly 25-year history of the poll, one of the longest-running in the nation.

Another 21% are "not too confident" in their retirement prospects – meaning that roughly 1 of every 2 Americans is worried about the outlook for their so-called golden years.

The analysis is the latest of many to depict the bleak retirement prospects for an aging nation. The study indicates that Americans are increasingly aware of their predicament, but it also shows that they're not doing much about it, often because they can't swing it financially in a still-laggard economy.

Only 17% believe they're doing a good job preparing for retirement, down from 24% a decade earlier. Most people -- 57% -- have squirreled away less than $25,000 for their later years, according to the study.

As a result, many Americans say they will have to delay retirement until they’re financially prepared.

This year, 36% of workers say they’ll have to postpone retirement past age 65 and 7% say they’ll have to work forever. In 1991, by contrast, only 11% of Americans expected to toil past their 65thbirthday.

The percentage of people who plan to retire early – before age 65 – has slumped to 23% today, from 50% in 1991, according to the research institute.

Dispiriting as that is, the report indicates that many people overestimate their ability to work into old age. Nearly half of current retirees say they left the workforce earlier than planned. More than half of those cited medical problems, although almost one-third said they simply could afford to stop working.

About 69% of people plan to work after they’ve officially retired, but only one-quarter of current retirees say they have any sort of job.

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BrightScope Inc. specializes in analyzing 401(k) retirement plans

Follow Walter Hamilton on Twitter @LATwalter