By Cynthia Pasquale
David Ronquillo spent much of his career doing contract work in journalism and public relations, often in six-month stints with different employers.
He didn’t qualify for a workplace retirement plan, and as a single father, he navigated a tight budget. Now, at 69, his Social Security checks aren’t enough for him to retire on.
“I’m fortunate that I am in good health and can still work,” said Ronquillo, who supplements his income with odd jobs like dealing poker at a pub near his suburban Denver home.
Ronquillo’s financial struggles are not unique.
Nationwide, nearly half of households headed by someone 55 or over have no retirement savings. Almost 5 in 10 Coloradans ages 25 to 64 who work in the private sector lack access to an employer-sponsored retirement plan. And minority and lower-wage workers are even less likely to have access to a workplace savings account.
To combat a retirement security crisis, state legislators this year passed a bill establishing the Colorado Secure Savings Plan Board, to examine the feasibility of creating a savings program for employees of small businesses that don’t offer such plans.
“It’s estimated that workers are 15 times more likely to save for retirement if they have access to a workplace savings plan,” said Kelli Fritts, AARP Colorado’s director of advocacy.
AARP Colorado has pushed for the program for several years, and a 2016 AARP survey found that 58 percent of small-business owners support the idea.
Weighing costs and benefits
The new board, with nine members representing the state, the financial sector, companies, employees and retirees, is charged with analyzing different approaches to addressing the retirement savings problem—including taking no action at all.
“I know a piece of this bill is to look at the effect of doing nothing, but I think we’ve actually seen it,” said state Treasurer Dave Young (D), who will lead the board. “One facet of the [state] budget is that we began to see more and more use of safety-net services by people who had not planned well for retirement.”
The board will also examine three other concepts. One is the creation of a state-facilitated savings program that would be voluntary for employees and provide automatic payroll deductions at no cost to employers.
The benefits would be portable from job to job. Colorado residents who aren’t employees but meet certain qualifications would be able to participate.
The second option involves designing a state-run marketplace that would offer multiple retirement savings choices. Finally, the board will look at increasing financial literacy through a variety of programs.
The group is slated to make a recommendation to the General Assembly by Feb. 28.
So far, 10 states have set up “work-and-save” programs to help those without access to employer-sponsored retirement options. OregonSaves, on which the Colorado Secure Savings Plan could be modeled, helped more than 95,000 workers set aside $22.8 million within its first two years.
AARP will hold events across the state to educate the public about the savings-program idea. Go to aarp.org/CoTour for dates and locations.
Cynthia Pasquale is a writer living in Denver.