Calif. Sets Model for States to Assist in Retirement Savings


Retirement security is a top concern for Americans, for good reason. Despite the nation’s overall global standing, the U.S. falls behind much of the industrialized world when it comes to having its citizens prepared to financially survive in their golden years.

Not surprisingly, those least prepared for retirement are those earning less. As it stands, some 41 percent of workers haven’t saved a cent for retirement. That shouldn’t be surprising at a time when income inequality in the workforce has made it a struggle for many just to pay for day-to-day expenses.

Obviously, employer-paid pension plans would be the best choice for everyday Americans. But that’s just not a reality for many. In fact, many workers don’t even have the option of saving for retirement through work.

In California, however, the state is attempting to do something about it. A bill working its way through the Legislature would create a state retirement program for those working at employers with five or more workers who don’t offer their own retirement plan. Workers would be enrolled automatically by their employers and would put aside between two and five percent of their money into the plan, unless they opt out.

An estimated 6.8 million Californians would be covered under the plan, about a third of the state’s workforce.  But even more exciting is the possibility this could serve as a model to get even more states to form their own programs to help workers put away dollars to be used for a retirement nest egg.

As The New York Times wrote in an editorial today, “The benefits of such a plan are the lower fees and higher returns that come with pooled contributions and professional management. The burden on employers is minimal: They have to deduct the employees’ contributions from paychecks. The risks to the state are also minimal: Because the accounts are financed entirely with employee contributions, they do not present the fiscal problems associated with many public pension funds.”

Everyday Americans need a toolkit full of good retirement choices. Pensions and increasing Social Security are two of them. But there is a need for more. The Golden State has the right idea here.