Workers who had already been investing in their 401(k) for at least five years through 2008 saw their balances drop an average of 24% last year, compared with the S&P 500’s sharp 37% decline, the Investment Company Institute and the Employee Benefit Research Institute said.

Because of their continued contributions, over the past five years from 2003 to 2008, their average account balance increased 7.2% a year. Among these consistent participants, the average account balance rose from $61.106 at the end of 2003 to $86,513 at the end of last year.

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