Red and Blue Voters Support State-Run Retirement Programs

An AARP poll taken in Michigan shows bipartisan support for state-operated retirement savings programs for private sector workers.

AARP conducted a survey of Michigan voters between the ages of 25 and 64 to weigh their feelings about their financial and retirement security—and to test their interest in the concept of “public-private” retirement savings programs.

According to the survey data, Michigan voters are broadly anxious about having enough money for retirement, and a two-thirds majority would support a state-run retirement savings option for private-sector workers who otherwise lack access to retirement savings opportunities. AARP also reports that 83% of survey respondents agree state policymakers should take action to make it easier for all workers to save for retirement in a tax-advantaged way out of their regular paycheck. This is roughly the same proportion who believe it is very important to be able to save for retirement specifically in the workplace, with both figures breaking down fairly evenly across political affiliations.

“Michiganders are working as hard as ever, but many do not have a way to save for retirement,” says Paula Cunningham, state director of AARP Michigan. “These survey results show that a large majority of Michiganders support a program that would provide workers a way to save for retirement at their jobs.”

According to AARP Michigan, almost half of the state’s private-sector employees, or about 1.69 million people, work for an employer that does not offer a retirement plan. At the same time, eight in 10 poll respondents who don’t have access to a retirement savings plan at work say they would take advantage of one if it was available.

Among the survey’s other key findings is a statistic showing half of Michigan adults ages 25 to 64 say, per their own assessment, that they are behind schedule in their planning and saving for retirement. The overwhelming majority of respondents (86%) say they know it’s very important for them to save for retirement, but they say other things, such as debt and current living expenses, often get in the way.

“Today, a secure retirement is out of reach for over 1.6 million Michiganders, especially those who work for themselves or for small businesses,” Cunningham adds. “The results of this poll speak to the anxiety that many have regarding their financial security in retirement. Without the ability to save, many Michiganders face retiring into poverty. These poll results show how important it is to give an opportunity for a more secure retirement to future retirees.”

While voters in Michigan contemplate a state-run retirement program, both progressive and conservative states across the United States have already taken steps to implement such programs, from New York to Oklahoma. Many experts view the state-run payroll deduction individual retirement account (IRA) programs as a positive for the nation in terms of helping to bridge the coverage gap, as well as a source of potential future clients for retirement plan advisers.

New research from the Pew Charitable Trusts shows the state-run option established in Oregon, called OregoneSaves, has performed largely up to expectations and has not proven to be a major burden for employers. According to the Pew research, about 80% of OregonSaves-covered employers did not report any out of pocket costs associated with the program.

The 21.5% of employers that did report costs cited fees for outsourcing program contributions to external payroll firms or bookkeepers, wages for additional staff time to set up the program, and/or time spent registering employees with OregonSaves. The analysis finds employers who handled payroll internally were about equally likely to report out of pocket costs as employers who outsourced their payroll management.

Middle-sized firms, those with 10 to 49 employees, were more likely than small firms with nine or fewer employees to report out of pocket costs, possibly because larger workforces translate to higher administrative costs.