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Real Possibilities – Lawmakers Considering Hawai'i’s Saves for Retirement

Elizabeth Hata-Watanabe, owner of Burgers on Bishop, treats her workers like family.

She’s strict, but caring, and wants her workers to succeed. She also wants them to start saving for retirement. But she can’t give them the easiest way to save at work: a payroll deduction savings program.

“Although retirement savings is something that we as a small business would like to do, it’s almost impossible for us to take on another burden and another expense,” Hata-Watanabe said.

Senate Bill 1374 would help small businesses like Burgers on Bishop and their workers. It would create a public-private partnership to offer a Hawai‘i Saves program, a payroll deduction retirement program for the private sector to help workers at businesses that do not offer their own retirement savings programs.

Businesses would be able to offer the program to their workers at no cost to the business and the money would be put into individual Roth IRA or IRA accounts and investments maintained by private financial services companies. The state would set up the program, but would not touch the worker’s money.

The scary reality is that too many Hawai‘i residents are not saving and are not prepared for retirement. As taxpayers, we may end up having to pay for their basic needs if they cannot afford food, rent and medicine.

That’s another reason small business owners are overwhelmingly in favor of state lawmakers doing something to assist them in helping their workers save. In a recent AARP poll, seven out of 10 small business owners said they support a Hawai‘i Saves program. About the same number told us they would participate if the program were offered.

John Iha, owner of Gochi Grill on Bishop Street, has three employees. One of his workers is already saving for her retirement through a 401K with her other job. Iha’s other two workers do not have payroll deduction and are not saving.

In Hawai‘i, about 216,000 workers do not have retirement savings programs at work. That’s about half of all private-sector employees.

Why is that important? Because payroll savings is the easiest and most effective way of getting people to save. People can go out and get their own individual retirement account, or IRA, but only one in 20 will actually save on their own. Workers are 15 times more likely to save if the money comes out of their paychecks. And, they are 20 times more likely to save if you automatically enroll them and give them the choice to opt out rather than opt in.

A program in Oregon that is similar to what has been proposed in Hawai‘i is getting workers to save, many for the first time. OregonSaves started less than two years ago, but already 70,000 workers have saved more than $14 million. The average income of the savers is $29,000 and the average amount saved is $100 a month.

Hawai‘i’s workers and small businesses work hard. They need an easy way to save. It’s time to pass SB 1374 and create a Hawai‘i Saves program.

This story originally appeared in The Hawaii Herald

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