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Helping Anxious Missouri Workers Boost Retirement Savings


As a retired elementary-school teacher, Sharon Wells enjoys a pension from the state retirement system. But she knows that many future retirees won’t be as fortunate.

“My children now understand it is up to them to save for their retirement,” said Wells, 76, a volunteer advocate for AARP Missouri who lives in St. Louis County. “If they don’t do that, they’re going to be in sad shape. A lot of people haven’t come to terms with that.”

A new AARP survey found that 64 percent of Missouri voters ages 25 to 64 are anxious about having enough money for retirement. About half said they are behind in planning and saving for retirement.

Research shows a looming savings crisis across the country. About half of all households headed by someone over 55 have no retirement savings, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

That’s why AARP Missouri is backing a bill in the upcoming legislative session that would help workers save money from their paychecks.

“Our big, growing concern is that folks don’t have pensions at work anymore and a lot of employers don’t offer 401(k)s,” said Jay Hardenbrook, AARP Missouri advocacy director.

The proposal is based on the state’s 529 plan for college savings. It would provide for paycheck deductions into a retirement fund at no cost to businesses or employees. Employers’ contributions would be voluntary.

Introduced last year, the measure didn’t get much traction, Hardenbrook said. He’s hoping for a better outcome in 2020.

At least 10 states have approved legislation to create state-sponsored programs (often called work and save) to expand access to retirement savings. Other states are considering such proposals.

Wells said having a retirement savings program through work is an important advantage over do-it-yourself options.

“If somebody doesn’t get you to do it, you’re less likely to save, especially if there’s no incentive from your employer,” she said.

Other legislative priorities for AARP Missouri include:

Property-tax reassessment Many older residents are seeing drastic increases in assessed property values, particularly in gentrifying urban neighborhoods, Hardenbrook said.

“Older people, including many people of color, have lived in these neighborhoods for decades,” he said. “They’re not able to pay higher property taxes and are worried they are going to lose their homes.”

AARP is working on legislation that would enable localities to offer alternatives, such as deferral of taxes until a property is sold.

Utility rates AARP will join other consumer protection groups to try to prevent passage of a bill that would raise rates, and will attempt to block price spikes.

Home- and community-based services Earlier this year the General Assembly restored funds to help keep older people in their homes. AARP is urging legislators to increase funding to keep up with inflation.

Circuit breaker tax credit AARP will continue fighting lawmakers’ attempts to reduce tax credits for older residents who rent.

Wells and other volunteer advocates will talk with legislators, make calls and write emails to media outlets about AARP’s priorities in 2020.

She will also push for greater access to Medicaid, blaming the recent closure of rural hospitals on the state’s refusal to expand the program.

“Some of these issues aren’t going to fix themselves,” said Wells, an AARP advocate since 2003. “If you don’t stand up and say something, they won’t get changed.”

Interested in becoming a volunteer advocate? Contact Jay Hardenbrook at or 816-810-2066.

Tim Poor is a writer living in Clayton, Mo.

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