Gallup: Fewer Will Rely On 401(k) in Retirement Than Pre-Recession

Filed under: News,Retirement Benefits |

Retired Americans rely on Social Security as a major source of income

By Rebecca Riffkin, Gallup

Prior to the Great Recession, most Americans planned to rely on a 401(k), IRA, Keogh, or other retirement savings account when they retire. Today, 48% of Americans say they would rely on a 401(k) account in retirement — a percentage that (48%) has not rebounded to pre-recession levels.

A post-Great Recession boomer retirement community.

A post-Great Recession boomer retirement community. Photo: Dan Kamminga

 April 2008, 54% of Americans who had yet to retire expected to rely on a 401(k) as a major source of income. This dropped to 42% in 2009, in the depths of the recession, but has been rebounding ever since.

During the recession, many working Americans saw the value of their 401(k) accounts drop, which may have made them skeptical that they would be able to rely on these accounts as a source of retirement income. Stocks and 401(k) accounts have recovered much of their value since then, and simultaneously, the percentage of non-retired Americans who plan to use these retirement accounts as a source of income has increased.

The percentage of non-retired Americans who plan to rely on a 401(k) is far higher than the percentage of retired Americans who do rely on a 401(k) or other retirement savings account, currently 22%. The recession did not affect retired Americans’ reliance on 401(k)s and other retirement savings accounts as much as it affected non-retirees’ projected reliance on these accounts.

The Role of Social Security in Retirement Income

Historically, Social Security has been more of a prominent factor in the incomes of retired Americans than in the retirement plans of non-retired Americans. During the 12 years Gallup has been tracking this measure, between 50% and 61% of retirees have considered Social Security a major source of income. By contrast, between 25% and 34% of non-retirees have expected it to be a major income source when they reach retirement.

Since the recession began, more non-retirees have expected Social Security to be a major source of retirement income than did so before 2008. From 2002 to 2007, between 25% and 29% of non-retirees expected it to be a major source of income, compared with 30% to 34% from 2008 to 2014. This may reflect the higher volatility in the stock and housing markets, as fewer Americans felt comfortable trusting their retirement income to these sources and instead considered Social Security the safer option.

However, an additional 51% of non-retired Americans do expect to rely on Social Security as a minor source of income. So while non-retired Americans mostly don’t expect to rely on it as a major source of income, most expect it to fund their retirement to some degree — not a surprising finding, given that Social Security is currently guaranteed for most working Americans.

Fewer Will Rely on 401(k) in Retirement Than Pre-Recession.

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