Up Front

Retirement Security a Priority in the 2015 State of the Union

William G. Gale and David C. John

In the 2015 State of the Union Address, President Obama made retirement security a priority for his Administration by promoting the Automatic IRA, a retirement savings plan that originated at the Retirement Security Project. The proposals would increase the ability of part-time workers to join their employer’s plan and improve tax incentives for businesses that either start an Automatic IRA or other type of retirement plan or add automatic enrollment to an existing plan.


Only about half of all American workers have access to a payroll deduction retirement savings plan at work. For part-time workers, fewer than four in ten have the opportunity to save at work. And while these individuals could in theory save on their own in an IRA, the best estimate is that only about one in twenty eligible to contribute to an IRA actually do so on a regular basis.


Last year, the President announced the creation of My Retirement Account, or “MyRA.” Similar to the R-Bond discussed in a recent AARP Public Policy Institute paper written by William Gale, David John and Spencer Smith, MyRA would allow individuals to save up to $15,000 in a government bond account similar to the one offered as an option to federal employees through the Thrift Savings Plan.


Now, the White House proposes to build on the MyRA.  Because the Automatic IRA would require employers with more than 10 employees to offer retirement accounts, about 30 million more workers would have the opportunity to save for retirement via payroll deduction. Using automatic enrollment, a mechanism that both works and that employees strongly support, the Automatic IRA would serve as a permanent retirement savings plan, rather than a starter account like MyRA.


To further increase the number of retirement savers, the Obama Administration also proposes to allow part-time employees who have worked for the employer for at least 500 hours a year for the past three years to make voluntary contributions to the employer’s plan.  Currently, employers are allowed to exclude any employee who works less than 1,000 hours per year.


And to encourage employers to offer retirement plans, the existing tax credits for small employers who start a new retirement plan or pension would be greatly expanded.  Small employers who create an Automatic IRA would be eligible for a $3,000 tax credit, while those who open another type of retirement plan would be eligible for a $4,500 tax credit.  And just adding automatic enrollment to an existing plan would earn a small employer a tax credit of $1,500.


While these proposals would all need the approval of congress, they may well be able to rise above the usual political maneuvering.  For instance, both left and right have made positive comments about the Automatic IRA, and businesses should support the call for expanded tax credits to cover their costs in implementing the plans.


Most important, the president continues to make retirement security a priority with practical solutions that would allow many more Americans to build retirement security through their own efforts.  His proposals promote the kind of values and self-reliance that both sides of the political spectrum find attractive.