Retirement account deficits have increased modestly as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and its resulting stock market swoons. That has prompted a relatively conservative view of what the virus’s impact will be on the economy and employer plan decisions, according to the Employee Benefit Research Institute in a new study.

According to the think tank, the aggregate retirement deficit in the United States for all households comprising those ages 35 to 64 stood at $3.68 trillion on January 1, and that deficit could be worsened by the pandemic.

“Retirement plan deficits increased 4.5%, or $166.21 billion when the investment losses already experienced in the first quarter of 2020 are combined with an intermediate set of assumptions with respect to employee and employer behavior and unemployment,” the institute said in its statement.

When a more pessimistic set of assumptions is used that includes more investment and job losses, the aggregate retirement savings deficits could rise by 11.2% from that January 1 baseline, adding another $412.77 billion shortfall, the group said.

These deficits “appear to be manageable” the researchers said. But it’s impossible to predict future stock market fluctuations and the level and duration of unemployment rates, things that could make the retirement deficit much less manageable.

Market losses could be the largest factor during the crisis in increasing retirement savings shortfalls and decreasing savings surpluses, especially in a worst-case scenario.

For younger workers, the permanent termination of defined contribution (DC) plans under $10 million in assets would have an even larger impact, the institute added.

The reduction or suspension of the match contributions that employers make to plans, contribution suspensions by workers, increases in withdrawals and loans and decreases in plan eligibility do not have as much impact when spread over all U.S. households. But these factors may have a significant influence on the individuals affected by them, EBRI said.

“While employers and policy makers cannot control market fluctuations, they can be aware of the impact of plan sponsor and participant behavior on retirement income adequacy and develop approaches that can help mitigate damaging behavior today and position plans for robust utilization when the crisis ends,” EBRI researchers said.

“The crisis could result in unexpectedly worse outcomes,” they added. “Market losses could be even greater, plan terminations more common.” The analysis was not meant to minimize the impact on specific individuals most affected, the institute said. The EBRI is currently working on a study factoring in the potential ability of affected workers to take much bigger loans and withdrawals than they could even during the 2007-2009 financial crisis.