America’s middle class has had a rough go of things in recent years, and few in the middle anticipate life getting easier as they get older. In a new survey, three-quarters of American middle-class workers say they expect to keep working past the normal retirement age (65), and one-quarter think they’ll have to work at least until they’re 80.
The survey, conducted on the behalf of Wells Fargo, reveals that:
• A quarter (25%) of middle class Americans say they will “need to work until at least age 80” to live comfortably in retirement
• Three-fourths (74%) of middle class Americans expect to work in their retirement years, including 39% of all respondents who will need to work to make ends meet or maintain their lifestyles, while 35% say they will work because they want to, rather than out of financial need.
• Among middle class Americans age 40 to 59, 54% say they will “need to work,” compared to 34% of those age 25 to 39. Accordingly, only 25% of those between the ages of 40 and 59 say they will work in retirement because they “want to,” versus 45% of Americans between the ages of 25 and 39.
The data jibes, in a similarly depressing way, with previous surveys showing that most Americans are pessimistic about the economy, leading folks to assume they’ll have to work longer to build up a sufficient nest egg for retirement, and that 39% of Americans wouldn’t retire until at least the age of 70, most likely out of necessity rather than because they “want to” keep working.
(MORE: Back to School? Why It Pays to Retire in a College Town)
The work-longer trend is already a reality: Whereas just 10% of Americans 65 and up were working in 1984, 16% of folks in this age group were still on the job in 2009. Older Americans looking to retire in the near future have good reason to delay their plans: 61% of citizens ages 55 and up who’ve been in the workforce within the past three years said their assets were down in a recent survey.
The simplest way to cope with today’s realities—when it’s a terrible time to sell stocks, when pensions have largely disappeared, when life expectancy and health care costs are higher than ever—is to just postpone retirement for a few years, if not indefinitely.
Brad Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.