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Lawmakers Call For Action On Low Savings Rate

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Congress could arrange for the federal government to match Americans’ contributions to retirement savings accounts.

Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., chairman of the Education and Labor Committee, and Rep. Rob Andrews, D-N.J., chairman of the committee’s pensions subcommittee, talked about that idea and others here during a conference call held to review a new U.S. Government Accounting Office analysis of workers’ 401(k) plan contributions.

GAO researchers estimate that, if current contribution trends keep up, typical workers retiring in the 2050s will have enough money in 401(k) plan accounts and similar accounts to cover only 22% of their pre-retirement income.

About 40% of workers who will turn 65 in 2055 will have no money at all in a defined contribution plan account, the researchers predict.

“While Social Security faces long-term challenges that must be addressed, this GAO report makes it clear that the real retirement security crisis is the lack of savings in private retirement plans,” Miller said.

Possible solutions could include requiring, rather than permitting, employers to enroll employees in 401(k) plans automatically, unless the employees opt out, and creating a federal matching contribution to encourage low-income workers to participate, the lawmakers said.

A federal matching program would provide a big incentive for workers to save for retirement, Miller said.

Setting up a matching program would require Congress to find a way to pay for the program, but “it’s a lot more expensive to wait and do nothing,” Andrews said.

To encourage more workers to contribute to a retirement savings program, the government needs to make workers confident that they will receive independent financial advice, that the money put into the account will be theirs and only theirs, and that the account will still be there when they retire, Andrews said.

Workers should be able to take any assets with them when they change jobs, the lawmakers said.

In addition, Miller said, Congress should give workers the ability to contribute to 401(k) plans regardless of whether their employers sponsor a plan.

“We can’t let the situation of the employer interfere with the ability of the employee to contribute,” Miller said.