By Ted Wheeler, Oregon State Treasurer
I am proud to have partnered with AARP to pass what may become the most important piece of Oregon legislation this year. Because of the work of AARP – its staff, members and volunteers – Oregonians will now have the tools they need to save for a secure retirement.
But it’s been a long road.
Policymakers in Oregon first grappled with the retirement security crisis nearly 20 years ago with the 1997 Retirement Task Force. At that time, the aging Baby Boomer generation produced significant anxiety about the long-term solvency of Social Security. Combined with fundamental changes in employer-sponsored pension plans and reduced savings by individuals, it became clear that new ideas and new policies were required to ensure all Oregonians had the resources to live comfortably after a lifetime of work.
Unfortunately their work did not lead to major policy changes, and nearly two decades later, we found ourselves in a familiar place. Oregon’s senior population is expected to double in the next 20 years. Roughly half of employees have no retirement savings option at work. One in six Oregonians aged 45-64 has less than $5,000 in a retirement savings account.
The bottom line is this: If we could not find ways to help Oregonians voluntarily save for their own retirement, the consequence would be increased burdens on costly social services.
The truth is that saving is hard. Oregonians not covered by a defined benefit plan assume the roles of investment advisor, financial manager, and retirement planner. This is further complicated by the sheer number of options available.
So how could we make it easier? The legislation we passed will create a retirement savings plan for all Oregonians lacking access to a plan at their workplace.
Here are some of the plan features:
- The plan will be voluntary. Employees will be automatically enrolled with the right to opt-out. Employees will be notified of and provided financial education about their enrollment upon employment.
- Contributing will be easy for employees and place minimal burden on small businesses. Defined contributions will be made from employee payroll deductions.
- Accounts will be portable, allowing savers to maintain their accounts from one job to the next and during periods of unemployment or self-employment.
- Funds will be pooled and professionally managed to maximize returns for participants.
Under the plan, employers will not be exposed to fiduciary liability, the state will not guarantee returns, and the state will not be liable for investment losses. The plan, funded through account fees, will be self-sufficient and cannot be raided by the legislature.
Many small business owners think this plan will be a net positive for their business. That’s because they want to be able to focus on their core business, not paperwork. They are excited about the chance to offer a simple, hassle-free plan like the one we’re creating.
Retirement security is among the biggest issues facing our nation. States cannot afford to wait for the federal government to act. We must lead. With the help of AARP, Oregon is leading. By creating a voluntary, portable, and hassle-free way to save, we can improve retirement security for families and protect the state’s bottom line.