The AP-NORC Center survey was conducted Aug. 8 through Sept. 10 by NORC at the University of Chicago, with funding from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, which makes grants to support original research and whose Working Longer program seeks to expand understanding of aging Americans' work patterns.
It involved landline and cellphone interviews in English and Spanish with 1,024 people aged 50 and older nationwide. Results from the full survey have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4.1 percentage points.
Though a roughly equal share of survey participants reported feeling secure about their retirement savings as feeling anxious, a significant minority gave signs of financial stress: One in 6 reported having less than $1,000 in retirement savings and 1 in 4 working respondents aren't saving for retirement outside of Social Security. Some 12 percent of unretired people reported borrowing from a 401(k) or other retirement plan in the past year. Though 29 percent reported at least $100,000 in savings, some find even that's not enough.
"All too often, people have a lump-sum illusion. They think, 'I have $100,000 in my 401k,' and they think, 'I'm rich,'" said Mitchell. "But it doesn't add up to much. It certainly is not going to keep them in champagne and truffles."
Dolores Gonzalez, 57, of Coalinga, Calif., expects no luxuries in retirement. She'll be happy if she can simply afford her $2,200 monthly mortgage payment. She used to think she would retire from teaching at 65; now she says she'll never stop working.
She had been strained by helping to support her parents. Now she has less than $200 in savings and she worries about sustaining herself in retirement when all she'll have is a Social Security check.
"A lot of people don't save because the cost of living is so high," she said. "Retirement is not going to be comfortable. It's going to be hard."