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Bloomberg headshot Marty Walsh

Regulation and Compliance > Federal Regulation > DOL

Retirement Is a DOL Priority: Labor Secretary

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Labor Secretary Marty Walsh laid out Thursday the department’s priorities, stating: “Retirement security is a fundamental need that all working people have, and it’s part of our mission at the Department of Labor, and quite honestly, it’s been a priority.”

Speaking at the Employee Benefit Research Institute’s policy event in Washington, Walsh discussed the retirement security steps the department has taken this year, noting the American Rescue Plan “provided special assistance” to multi-employer pension plans that were at risk.

Walsh pointed to Labor’s new rules “to ensure fiduciaries can take [environmental, social and governance] factors into account when it’s appropriate. That’s going to benefit plan participants as well as we move forward.”

On cryptocurrency and cybersecurity, Walsh said Labor has issued “important reminders of how to protect your savings. So we think about the plans that are already set up in America and making sure the investments that folks are making are safe moving forward.”

And, he signaled, “there’s more to come.”

Labor warned plan fiduciaries of their liability for crypto risks in Compliance Assistance Release 2022-01, “401(k) Plan Investments in ‘Cryptocurrencies,’” issued March 10.

Walsh urged attendees to engage with Labor on cryptocurrency. “It’s important for you to have conversations with us, because as we think about regulations and policies as we move forward, we need to hear from you in this room,” Walsh said. “I hope that you feel that we listen to what you say.”

Beyond ‘Not Saving Enough’

“We define a retirement plan as an essential component of a good job, whatever that might look like,” Walsh said.

Labor, he continued, is “focused on how to make the retirement system better for those who are in it, especially in underserved communities. We’re thinking about how we can better protect and support retirement plan participants in the United States.”

That includes “thinking how to get more retirement participants into the retirement system in the first place,” Walsh said.

Many Americans, Walsh continued, “don’t have any retirement savings at all — or a plan at all right now in this country, and many of them are towards the end of their working career.”

Going deeper, he said, “there are major equity gaps.”

He noted that unemployment was higher among Black Americans and that only 36% of Black households ages 55 to 64 had any retirement savings.

For many Black households with at least one retirement account, he said, “there’s really nothing in it — it’s a very small number.” And only 30% of similar Hispanic households have retirement savings, Walsh said.

“This is a crisis,” he said. “This is a crisis that we have to address in the United States of America.”

In large part, he continued, “people don’t save for retirement because they don’t have the opportunity.”

Said Walsh: “For too long the main message to workers has been: ‘You’re not saving enough.’ And that may be true, but that’s certainly not the whole story as we think about it. It ignores the lack of access too many workers have … in the system that they’re working in. It stigmatizes. It shuts down the conversation. We need to open up the conversation.”

Retirement Security Roundtables

During this year’s retirement security roundtable discussions, Walsh said Labor learned of three main challenges:

  • Lack of access to a retirement savings plan;
  • The importance or portability. It’s “hard to take savings from job to job and [participants are] cashing out their savings,” he said, quoting EBRI research finding approximately $92 billion leaves the retirement system each year due to lack of portability.
  • Lifetime income. “It’s hard to budget,” he said, “when you don’t know how long your money needs to last.”

Pictured: Labor Secretary Marty Walsh. (Photo: Bloomberg)


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