The economy may be slowly improving, but 401(k) plan sponsors are growing more pessimistic, according to a new study.

In the consulting firm Aon Hewitt’s most recent annual survey of 500 U.S. employers, conducted in early fall and released in late January, just 4 percent of the respondents said they were “very confident that their workers will retire with adequate retirement assets.” This was a sharp plunge from an already meager 30 percent the prior year.

And while another poll does not show a steep decline, it is because the lack of employer confidence has been ongoing. For the past 11 years, Deloitte Consulting has been querying 400 to 600 employers on the topic, and consistently, only about 15 percent say they think their employees will be financially ready to retire — even as the plans keep adding inducements that are intended to spur more savings. “It’s hard to tell if things are getting worse or if we’re just stuck,” says Scott Cole, a senior manager in Deloitte’s human capital practice who has run the survey for the past three years.

....