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If You Don't Have a Plan, You Probably Have Only $1,000 for Retirement

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Back in January's State of the Union Address, President Barack Obama called for a major upgrade to the U.S. retirement plan system and pushed a new retirement account called the MyRA.

Similar to retirement plans available to federal employees, the MyRA would use a traditional Roth IRA savings account in which the securities in the account would be backed by the government and never decline in value.

Congress hasn't been receptive to the president's calls for more savings options and a stronger push by government to encourage retirement savings. But the MyRA shouldn't be taken lightly -- especially at a time 73% of Americans who say they don't have a legitimate retirement savings plan have less than $1,000 saved for retirement.

That's the claim from the Employee Benefits Research Institute and its annual Retirement Confidence Survey.

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EBRI says the percentage of U.S. workers who are "confident" about a secure retirement is up this year, with 18% of Americans saying so compared with 13% last year. And 37% of survey respondents say they are "somewhat confident" about a achieving a decent retirement.

Those numbers show improvement compared with the lows calculated by EBRI in 2009-13, and on the surface they look like good news for perennially struggling U.S. retirement savers.

But EBRI says the Americans expressing optimism about retirement are in a high-income demographic and may not have been scarred as much as middle-income and lower-income savers during the brutal Great Recession years.

Additionally, savers with a positive outlook are "strongly correlated" with already having a retirement plan. EBRI says about half those workers anxious about a financially secure retirement have no retirement plan in place, and thus have a much longer way to go compared with people who do have an IRA, 401(k) or other investment retirement plan in place.

"Retirement confidence is strongly related to retirement plan participation," says Jack VanDerhei, EBRI's research director. "In fact, workers reporting they or their spouse have money in a defined-contribution plan or IRA or have a defined-benefit plan from a current or previous employer are more than twice as likely as those without any of these plans to be very confident," by about 24% with a plan vs. 9% without one.

As usual, it's a higher cost of living and seemingly endless debt that stand in the way of most Americans seeking a solid retirement income stream, and 53% of adults told EBRI both were "weighing on their retirement confidence."

"Just 3% of workers who describe their debt as a major problem say they are very confident about having enough money to live comfortably throughout retirement, compared with 29% of workers who indicate debt is not a problem," says Matt Greenwald, president of Greenwald & Associates, which ran the study for EBRI. "Overall, 58% of workers and 44% of retirees say they are having a problem with their level of debt."

That group includes the abundance of Americans who have no "official" retirement as well as those with less than $1,000 saved for their post-career years.

That's just not going to cut it, and Obama knows it. Whether a solution to the problem eventually comes out of Washington is largely unknown, and for now, all we know for sure is that millions of Americans have only a few hundred dollars saved for retirement.

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