WASHINGTON – Baby boomers are starting to retire, but many are agonizing about their finances and believe they'll need to work longer than they had planned, a new poll finds.
The 77 million-strong generation born between 1946 and 1964 has clung tenaciously to its youth. Now, boomers are getting nervous about retirement. Only 11 percent say they are strongly convinced they will be able to live in comfort.
A total of 55 percent said they were either somewhat or very certain they could retire with financial security. Yet a substantial 44 percent express little or no faith they'll have enough money when their careers end.
Further underscoring the financial squeeze, 1 in 4 boomers still working say they'll never retire. That's about the same number as those who say they have no retirement savings.
The Associated Press-LifeGoesStrong.com poll comes as politicians face growing pressure to curb record federal deficits, and budget hawks of both parties have expressed a willingness to scale back Social Security, the government's biggest program.
The survey suggests how politically risky that would be: 64 percent of boomers see Social Security as the keystone of their retirement earnings, far outpacing pensions, investments and other income.
The survey also highlights the particular retirement challenge facing boomers, who are contemplating exiting the work force just as the worst economy in seven decades left them coping with high jobless rates, tattered home values and painfully low interest rates that stunt the growth of savings.
"I have six kids," said Gary Marshalek, 62, of South Abington Township, Pa., who services drilling equipment and says he has repeatedly refinanced his home and dipped into his pension to pay for his children's college. His inability to afford retirement "sounds like America at the moment," Marshalek said. "Sounds like the normal instead of the abnormal."
Marshalek was among the 25 percent in the poll who say they plan to never retire. People who are unmarried, earn under $50,000 a year, or say they did a poor job of financial planning are disproportionately represented among that group.
Overall, nearly 6 in 10 baby boomers say their workplace retirement plans, personal investments or real estate lost value during the economic crisis of the past three years. Of this group, 42 percent say they'll have to delay retirement because their nest eggs shrank.
Though the first boomers are turning 65 this year, the poll finds that 28 percent already consider themselves retired. Of those still working, nearly half want to retire by age 65 and about another quarter envision retiring between 66 and 70.
Two-thirds of those still on the job say they will keep working after they retire, a plan shared about evenly across sex, marital status and education lines, the survey finds. That contrasts with the latest Social Security Administration data on what older people are actually doing: Among those age 65-74, less than half earned income from a job in 2008.
"I'm going to keep working after I retire, if nothing else for the health care," said Nadine Krieger, 58, a food plant worker from East Berlin, Pa. Citing $50,000 in retirement savings that she says won't go far, she added, "We probably could have saved more, but you can't when you have a couple of kids in the house."
About 6 in 10 married boomers expect a comfortable retirement, compared with just under half of the unmarried. Midwesterners are most likely to express confidence in their finances.
"I'm a good planner," said Robert Rivers, 63, a retired New York State employee in Ravena, N.Y. He still works seasonally for the federal government and collects a modest military pension. A recreational pilot, he says he has scaled back his lifestyle by flying and driving less.
"I'm spending money I have, not spending it and trying to repay it," he said.
Among boomers like Rivers who plan to continue working in retirement, 35 percent say they'll do so to make ends meet. Slightly fewer cite a desire to earn money for extras or to simply stay busy.
Excluding their homes, 24 percent of boomers say they have no retirement savings. Those with nothing include about 4 in 10 who are non-white, are unmarried or didn't finish college.
At the other end, about 1 in 10 say they have banked at least $500,000. Those who have saved at least something typically have squirreled away $100,000, with about half putting away more than that and half less.
Despite the worries and dearth of savings cited by many, only about a third of boomers say it's likely that they'll have to make do with a more modest lifestyle once they retire. Only about 1 in 4 expect to struggle just to pay their expenses.
Financial experts say such expectations are often not realistic.
"Most families have to make a significant adjustment from their working lives to their retirement years," said financial planner Sheryl Garrett, who runs the Garrett Planning Network. Ads that show silver-haired couples strolling off into the sunset do not represent the typical retirement, she added.
The AP-LifeGoesStrong.com poll was conducted from March 4-13 by Knowledge Networks of Menlo Park, Calif., and involved online interviews with 1,160 baby boomers born between 1946 and 1964. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
Knowledge Networks used traditional telephone and mail sampling methods to randomly recruit respondents. People selected who had no Internet access were given it for free.
AP Polling Director Trevor Tompson, Deputy Director of Polling Jennifer Agiesta and AP News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius contributed to this report.