updated 10/7/2008 4:52:28 PM ET 2008-10-07T20:52:28

Americans' retirement plans have lost as much as $2 trillion — or about 20 percent overall — in the past 15 months, Congress' top budget analyst estimated Tuesday.

The upheaval that has engulfed the financial industry and sent the stock market plummeting is devastating workers' savings, forcing people to hold off on major purchases and consider delaying their retirement, said Peter Orszag, the head of the Congressional Budget Office.

As Congress investigates the causes and effects of the financial meltdown, the House Education and Labor Committee was hearing from retirement savings and budget analysts on how the housing, credit and other financial troubles have battered pensions and other retirement funds, which are among the most common forms of savings in the United States.

"Unlike Wall Street executives, America's families don't have a golden parachute to fall back on," said Rep. George Miller, the panel chairman. "It's clear that their retirement security may be one of the greatest casualties of this financial crisis."

More than half the people surveyed in an Associated Press-GfK poll taken Sept. 27-30 said they worry they will have to work longer because the value of their retirement savings has declined.

Orszag indicated the fear is well-founded. Public and private pension funds and employees' private retirement savings accounts have lost some 20 percent overall since mid-2007, he estimated. Private retirement plans may have suffered slightly more because those holdings are more heavily skewed toward stocks, Orszag added.

"Some people will delay their retirement. In particular, those on the verge of retirement may decide they can no longer afford to retire and will continue working," Orszag said.

A new AARP study found that because of the economic downturn, one in five workers 45 and older has stopped putting money into a company-sponsored retirement account, Individual Retirement Account (IRA) or other retirement savings account during the past year, and nearly one in four has increased the number of hours he works.

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