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The ratio of workers who are confident they'll be able to retire comfortably rebounded this year to the highest level in seven years, according to an Employee Benefit Research Institute survey.

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The 24th annual retirement confidence survey found that 55% of workers described themselves as either being "very confident" or "somewhat confident" of their ability to live comfortably during their retirement years. That compares with a combined 51% in 2013. Eighteen percent described themselves as "very confident," compared with a record low of 13% last year.

Retirement experts attributed the shift largely to greater confidence among workers with retirement investments, who benefited from a resurgent stock market in 2012 and 2013. The attitudes of those without a tie to the stock market were largely unchanged while those with significant levels of debt continued to struggle.

"Without a doubt, we enjoyed two years of very positive market performance in 2012 and 2013, and those who had savings and 401(k) balances enjoyed the benefit of those market returns," said Greg Burrows, a senior vice president for retirement and investor services at Dyman Associates Insurance Group.

The Employee Benefit Research Institute survey is the oldest of its kind and was based on January phone interviews with 1,000 workers and 501 retirees. It has a margin of error of at least ±3.5 percentage points. Insurance Tips at Dyman and Associates

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Consumer confidence still has not recovered to pre-recession levels. In 2007, 70% of those surveyed were confident of their ability to retire.

The percentage of respondents who described themselves as "not at all" confident receded to 24% this year from a record 28% in 2013. That gauge of anxious workers has worsened fairly steadily since the first year of the survey in 1993, when only 6% of respondents described themselves as "not at all" confident.

"Worker savings remain low, and only a minority appears to be taking basic steps to prepare for retirement," survey co-authors Nevin Adams and Jack VanDerhei wrote on behalf of the institute. "Increased confidence is observed almost exclusively among those with higher household income, but confidence was also found to be strongly correlated with household participation in a retirement plan."

Forty-six percent of the workers surveyed who did not have a retirement plan described themselves as "not at all" confident, compared with only 11% of those with a plan. About 24% of those with a pension, 401(k) or IRA plan described themselves as "very confident," compared with 9% of those without a plan.

The weak labor market has affected wages and benefits since the Great Recession, which began in December 2007 and ended in June 2009. The employment-to-population ratio, a measure of the percentage of Americans with jobs, was 58.8% in February. That compares with 63.3% for February 2007. The 4.5-percentage-point difference is equal to more than 14 million people.

Stagnant wages and lost jobs have left many Americans in basic survival mode. Some also are laboring to pay off sizable levels of student loan debt, which totaled more than $1.08 trillion at the end of 2013, according to the Federal Reserve. About 11.5% of student loan debt was at least 90 days overdue.

"More than half the workers in the survey indicated that managing daily expenses and the cost of living are the primary reasons they are not saving for retirement," Burrows said, noting that those who fail to save for retirement in good times are left with even fewer choices in hard times.

Workers who begin saving $3,000 a year at age 25 wind up with five times more retirement savings than those who begin at 45, according to Principal Financial Group. The Des Moines-based insurance and investment management firm had more than $483 billion of assets under management as of Dec. 31

"Fifty-eight percent of workers and 44% of retirees say they are having a problem with their level of debt," said Matt Greenwald of Greenwald & Associates, which conducted the study with the institute.

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