Even though the U.S. unemployment rate is still about 9.2 percent overall, a study by The Hartford insurance company found that among households with incomes greater than $25,000, people are feeling more optimistic and saving more for retirement than they were a year ago.
About 34 percent of people surveyed said they were "extremely confident" or "very confident" that their lives will improve in the next 12 months.
At the same time, the Hartford found that participation in 401(k)s and other defined contribution retirement plans by employed adults rose to 76 percent overall in 2011, up from 71 percent from a year ago and up 63 percent from two years ago. Three demographic subgroups of respondents showed the biggest gains:
- Participation by boomers -- those closest to retirement -- rose to 79 percent, up from 71 percent in 2010 and from 63 percent in 2009.
- About 77 percent of Gen Xers -- those ages 32 to 46 -- contributed to their employer's retirement plan in 2011, an increase from 71 percent in 2010 and from 67 percent in 2009.
- Participation by men jumped to 81 percent, up from 71 percent last year and from 66 percent two years ago.
This all feels like good retirement planning news, even as we watch Congress struggle with the deficit. Both Vanguard and Charles Schwab have reported recently that there hasn't been much panic selling of stocks and bonds, which is a good thing. Most people seem convinced that a solution to the debt ceiling will be found before the U.S. is forced to default.
If you're retired, living on your assets and feeling nervous, money managers say that having at least six months' worth of cash to cover expenses is a good idea any time, but particularly wise now when nobody knows for sure what's going to happen to the economy.