• As wage growth outpaces inflation, Americans have reason to be more optimistic about long-term goals like retirement.
  • But many still fear that uncertainties like a higher cost of living or U.S. government changes to the retirement system may throw them off track.

Last year, Americans’ confidence that they would have enough money to live comfortably in retirement fell the most since the global financial crisis.

New research shows both workers’ and retirees’ confidence has not recovered. But some signs of optimism have emerged, particularly as wage growth now outpaces inflation growth, according to the Employees Benefit Research Institute and Greenwald Research.

The more than 2,500 Americans surveyed said certain factors are most likely to throw them off course — for example, an increasing cost of living that will make it harder to save and the U.S. government making significant changes to the retirement system.

The latter worry comes as both retirees and workers expect to rely on three sources of income in their golden years: Social Security, workplace retirement savings plans and personal retirement savings or investments, the research found.

While 88% of workers expect Social Security will be a source of retirement income, almost all of today’s retirees, 91%, say they depend on those benefit checks.

Changes to Social Security benefits may be on the horizon, as the program’s trust funds face depletion dates in the next decade that make benefit cuts of at least 20% inevitable if Congress does not take action. Meanwhile, Medicare’s trust fund that covers Part A hospital insurance is due to run out even sooner.

Other factors, like changes in tax breaks to employment-based retirement savings or individual retirement accounts, could also upend retirement planning if they were put in place, noted Craig Copeland, director of wealth benefits research at EBRI.

“That can really change the dynamics of what would happen in retirement and how people plan for retirement,” Copeland said.

Social Security is always a top issue in polls AARP conducts of its members, Nancy LeaMond, the interest group’s executive vice president and chief advocacy and engagement officer, said during a Wednesday press briefing.

“In light of that, and the importance of Social Security, we are asking every candidate for federal office this cycle what his or her position is on Social Security,” LeaMond said.

New survey results released by the AARP this week paint a less optimistic outlook for Americans ages 50 and up, with 20% indicating they have no retirement savings. Moreover, 61% say they worry they will not have enough money in retirement.

The nonprofit organization, which represents Americans 50 and up, is also pushing for lawmakers’ positions on family caregiving, which tends to contribute to women’s economic insecurity in retirement, LeaMond said.

AARP is also backing other legislative proposals to improve retirement security by providing Americans who do not have access to employer-sponsored retirement plans with retirement savings accounts or automatic IRAs.

While Congress has also taken action to address retirement security through recent legislation, the effects may be limited for people who are close to retirement, Copeland noted. That includes changes that make it possible for savers in their 60s to make additional catch-up contributions and a match for low-income workers.

“There wasn’t a great deal that’s really change the dynamic for people near retirement,” Copeland said.