Americans are getting older and living longer, yet too many of us are woefully unprepared for retirement.
Consider these numbers from Boston College’s Center for Retirement Research: 52 percent of U.S. households are at risk of running out of money during retirement — up from 31 percent in 1983. And 45 percent of all households have no retirement savings to augment Social Security payments.
Is Congress doing anything about this crisis in the making? Yes. Republicans in the House are poised to make it worse.
California is rolling out an IRA-style savings plan for people whose employers don’t offer pensions or retirement savings programs. That’s no small number. Barely half of California workers have access to 401(k) accounts or other employer-sponsored retirement plans, according to a study published last year. The national average is 58 percent.
Planning for the California Secure Choice retirement savings plan began in 2012, and it received authorization last year from the U.S. Department of Labor. Several other states are working on similar plans in which a small percentage of an employee’s income is placed in a state-sponsored retirement savings account.
Employers aren’t required to contribute any money, and employees are free to opt out. Employees will determine how much money is withheld and will be allowed to direct how their money is invested.
But with Oregon about to launch the first of these programs, House Republicans, acting at the behest of Wall Street investment banks, are moving to overturn the Labor Department’s authorization.
The investment banks contend that Secure Choice and similar savings plans will compete unfairly with their products. That claim seems specious, as the state-sponsored plans will be available only to people whose employers don’t offer retirement benefits. And there isn’t much money to be made selling retirement programs to small companies and low-wage workers.
With the Trump administration seeking to delay, and probably rescind, an Obama administration regulation requiring financial advisers to put their clients’ best interests first when advising them on retirement savings, killing off Secure Choice would be an enormous disservice to millions of hardworking people who want — and need — to set aside money for retirement.
But news accounts say the House could vote to do so as early as next week, even though there has yet to be a single public hearing on the proposal.
As many as 6.8 million people will be eligible for California’s Secure Choice program, which is expected to start next year. Saving money isn’t easy, and this program won’t change that. But it would help improve the quality of life in retirement for some Californians.
Justice Louis Brandeis described states as laboratories of democracy, capable of trying “novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country.” Republicans embraced the philosophy for generations. They shouldn’t forget it now that they control Congress and the White House.
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