Further underscoring the financial squeeze, one in four boomers still working said in the Associated Press-LifeGoesStrong.com poll that he or she would never retire. That was about the same number as those who said they had no retirement savings.
As politicians face growing pressure to curb record federal deficits, budget hawks of both parties have expressed a willingness to scale back Social Security, the government's biggest program. The boomer poll suggests that would be politically risky: 64 percent of respondents said they saw Social Security as the keystone of their retirement earnings, far outpacing pensions, investments, and other income.
The poll also highlights the particular retirement challenge facing older boomers, who are contemplating leaving the workforce just as the worst economy in seven decades left them coping with high jobless rates, tattered home values, and painfully low interest rates that stunt the growth of savings.
"I have six kids," said Gary Marshalek, 62, of South Abington Township, near Scranton, who services drilling equipment and said he had repeatedly refinanced his home and dipped into his pension to pay for his children's college education. His inability to afford retirement "sounds like America at the moment," Marshalek said. "Sounds like the normal instead of the abnormal."
Marshalek was among the 25 percent in the poll who said they planned to never retire. People who were unmarried, earned less than $50,000 a year, or said they had done a poor job of financial planning were disproportionately represented among that group.
Overall, nearly six in 10 baby boomers said their workplace retirement plans, personal investments, or real estate had lost value during the economic crisis of the last three years. Of this group, 42 percent said they would have to delay retirement because their nest eggs had shrunk.
Though the first boomers are turning 65 this year, 28 percent in the poll said they already consider themselves retired. Of those still working, nearly half said they wanted to retire by 65, and a quarter envisioned retiring between 66 and 70.
Two-thirds of those still on the job said they would keep working after they retired, a plan shared about evenly across sex, marital status, and education lines in the poll. That contrasts with the latest Social Security Administration data on what older people are doing: Among those ages 65 to 74, fewer than half earned income from a job in 2008.
"I'm going to keep working after I retire, if nothing else for the health care," said Nadine Krieger, 58, a food-plant worker from East Berlin, near Gettysburg. Citing $50,000 in retirement savings that she said wouldn't go far, she added, "We probably could have saved more, but you can't when you have a couple of kids in the house."
About six in 10 married boomers said they expected a comfortable retirement, compared with just under half of the unmarried. Midwesterners were most likely to express confidence in their finances.
"I'm a good planner," said Robert Rivers, 63, a retired New York state employee in Ravena. He still works seasonally for the federal government and collects a modest military pension. A recreational pilot, he said he had scaled back his lifestyle by flying and driving less.
"I'm spending money I have, not spending it and trying to repay it," he said.
Among boomers who plan to continue working in retirement, such as Rivers, 35 percent said they would do so to make ends meet. Slightly fewer cited a desire to earn money for extras or to simply stay busy.
Excluding their homes, 24 percent of the boomers said they had no retirement savings. Those with nothing included about four in 10 who were nonwhite, were unmarried, or didn't finish college.
At the other end, one in 10 said they had banked at least $500,000. Those who saved at least something typically had squirreled away $100,000, with about half putting away more than that and half less.
Despite the worries and dearth of savings cited by many, only about a third of boomers say it's likely that they'll have to make do with a more modest lifestyle once they retire. Only about 1 in 4 expect to struggle just to pay their expenses.
Financial experts say such expectations are often not realistic.
"Most families have to make a significant adjustment from their working lives to their retirement years," said financial planner Sheryl Garrett, who runs the Garrett Planning Network. Ads that show silver-haired couples strolling off into the sunset do not represent the typical retirement, she added.
The AP-LifeGoesStrong.com poll was conducted from March 4-13 by Knowledge Networks of Menlo Park, Calif., and involved online interviews with 1,160 baby boomers born between 1946 and 1964. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
Knowledge Networks used traditional telephone and mail sampling methods to randomly recruit respondents. People selected who had no Internet access were given it for free.
AP polling director Trevor Tompson, deputy director of polling Jennifer Agiesta, and AP news survey specialist Dennis Junius contributed to this article.