New Research Finds Strong Support for State-Facilitated Retirement Programs for Workers Lacking Workplace Plans


Washington, DC ( - A national survey finds strong support for new state-facilitated retirement programs aimed at helping workers without employer-provided plans save for retirement. The vast majority of Americans (72 percent) agree that state-facilitated retirement savings programs are a good idea, with high support across party and generational lines. Three-quarters of Americans say they would participate in these retirement programs if offered in their state, and most express favorable views of features like portability and low fees.

These findings are contained in a new issue brief from the National Institute on Retirement Security (NIRS), Americans' Views of State-Facilitated Retirement Programs. Download the research here.

"It's encouraging that many states are taking action to help employees save for retirement, and it's equally promising to see strong public support for these new retirement programs," said Dan Doonan, NIRS executive director and report co-author. "At the same time, it's important to note that the state-facilitated programs are a backstop for employees who lack workplace plans like pensions and 401(k) accounts." 

"Ideally, the state-facilitated programs will nudge more employers to offer retirement plans to their employees. Employer-sponsored retirement plans have advantages that are not available to state-facilitated plans, including employer contributions. In fact, research indicates that more employers in states like California, Oregon, and Illinois are moving toward plan sponsorship in response to the new state-facilitated programs," Doonan explained. 

This research finds:

  • The vast majority of Americans (72 percent) agree that state-facilitated retirement programs are a good idea. There is high support across party and generational lines, with support highest among Millennials (78 percent). 
  • Three-quarters of Americans (75 percent) say they would participate in state-facilitated retirement programs, consistent across party and generational lines. 
  • Americans view many key features of state-facilitated retirement programs as highly favorable, especially portability (84 percent), higher returns (82 percent), and lower fees (82 percent). 

These results come as most working Americans are not on track for a secure retirement. Half of U.S. households will not have enough retirement income to maintain their standard of living in retirement. The causes of the retirement savings crisis are many, including fewer pensions, lower Social Security income, and the rising costs of housing, healthcare, and long-term care. 

To help Americans lacking retirement plans at their workplace, many states have taken action, establishing state-facilitated retirement savings programs. 

Since 2012, some 46 states have either enacted, studied, or considered legislation that would establish state-facilitated retirement programs, according to Georgetown University's Center for Retirement Initiatives. Currently, 14 states and two cities have enacted these new programs for private sector workers. 

While each program is different, the most popular type of program that states are enacting automatically enrolls workers in moderate risk, low-cost retirement savings accounts referred to as auto-IRAs. Typically, the state-facilitated programs require private sector employers lacking retirement plans to provide their employees with access to retirement accounts through payroll deductions. These programs are overseen and administered by the state, while investments are managed by private companies. Workers in states that offer these programs can access these retirement savings accounts when they retire.

Conducted by Greenwald Research, information for this study was collected from interviews conducted between December 4–10, 2020, of 1,203 individuals aged 25 and older. The final data were weighted by age, gender, and income to reflect the demographics of Americans aged 25 and older. Tabulations in some of the charts may not add up to 100 due to rounding.

For the purposes of this research, Millennials include those ages 25 to 43, Generation X includes those ages 44 to 55, Baby Boomers include those ages 56 to 74, and the Silent generation includes those age 75 or older.

The National Institute on Retirement Security is a non-profit, non-partisan organization established to contribute to informed policymaking by fostering a deep understanding of the value of retirement security to employees, employers and the economy as a whole. Located in Washington, D.C., NIRS membership includes financial services firms, employee benefit plans, trade associations, and other retirement service providers. More information is available at Follow NIRS on Twitter @NIRSonline

SOURCE National Institute on Retirement Security

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