Midday Market Minute: Average 401k Balance Reaches Record High

The retirement game: Who can play, and who thinks it's an unrealistic dream?

Let's start with the good news.

Retirement money funds
Retirement money funds

Fidelity Investments says the average balance for 401k retirement funds has jumped to a record high of nearly $81,000 dollars in the first quarter.

That's up 8.4 percent from a year ago, and up 75 percent since the stock market bottomed out in March 2009. Since then, the S&P 500 has soared 145 percent.

Why the big discrepancy between the overall market return and the gains to our retirement portfolios? It's because most of us are not fully invested in stocks.

In fact, Fidelity notes that for people who abandoned the stock market during the financial crisis and never got back in, returns have significantly lagged behind those who stayed invested. Fidelity is the nation's largest administrator of 401k plans, and its numbers come from a survey of the accounts it holds

Not surprisingly, people who have been in the workforce the longest have the biggest 401k balances.

For workers 55 and older who have been with the same employer for 10 years or more, the average balance is $255,000 dollars.

Still, that's not enough to make most workers feel secure that they can retire at the traditional age of 65. A new Gallup poll finds that three-quarters of adult workers in the U.S. expect to continue working after age 65.

Forty percent say they'll work because they want to, and 35 percent say they'll work because they have to. Those earning more than $75,000 a year are most eager to stay in the workforce.

And we have the results of a third survey, this one focusing on the youngest people in the workforce: the group of 22-to-32 year-olds known as millennials.

Wells Fargo (WFC) finds that more than half of them are so focused on what they see as "overwhelming" debt loads -- mostly college loans -- that they can't even begin to plan for retirement.

Collectively, they have $1 trillion of student loans to repay. Despite this, and the weak job market for younger workers, two out of three millennials are optimistic that they will end up better off financially than their parents.

-Produced by Drew Trachtenberg