Then there is the matter of paying for retirement itself. Employer-sponsored pensions are on track to virtually disappear, according to the institute's data. They expect less than 10 percent of the cohort born between 1990 and 1999 to have a traditional pension in retirement, and defined contribution plans like 401(k) plans to be much more the norm.
Unfortunately, though, many workers do not have access to a workplace retirement plan. And even among those who do, saving can be hard at a time when college costs are rising faster than inflation and wage growth is slow at best.
Good, bad or ugly, retirement is changing in fundamental ways. But on balance, Johnson remains optimistic.
"Despite a lot of things we hear, the sky isn't falling on retirement," he said. "People are going to still spend a lot of time in retirement, and a lot of people are going to do pretty well. In addition to the challenges that get a lot of attention, there are some positive developments going on as well. Our projections don't show that things are going to be dramatically worse in the future than they are today."
— Kelley Holland, special to CNBC