California Takes On the Retirement Crisis

Posted on September 23, 2012 at 4:30 pm

(New York Times) When you think of California as a trendsetter, retirement policy is probably not the first thing that comes to mind, but that may soon change.

bill recently passed by the California Legislature creates the foundation for a savings plan to cover the state’s 6.3 million private-sector employees who have no retirement coverage at work. The plan also could serve as a model for addressing a national problem: Americans for the most part are ill-prepared for retirement, either because they have risky 401(k) plans or inadequate savings or no retirement coverage at all.

Memo to Gov. Jerry Brown: Please sign this bill.

The new law is aimed at finding a way to cover the uncovered without the considerable expense and market risks inherent in 401(k)’s.

Specifically, the legislation calls for research to settle the technical and legal issues that stand in the way of enacting a public-private partnership that would be called the California Secure Choice Retirement Savings Program. Eligible employees would have 3 percent of pay deducted from their paychecks, unless they opted out. The employee contributions would be pooled and conservatively managed by professional investment managers chosen by the state through a bid process. That could include private firms and the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, the big public pension manager. The program would be overseen by a board of public and private sector leaders, appointed by the governor and the Legislature.

One of the advantages of the plan is that pooled contributions and professional management would reduce administrative costs and investing mistakes, which would boost returns beyond what most 401(k) investors achieve on their own.

The plan also calls for a guaranteed minimum return, via private insurance and reserves. That would be expensive, so the guarantee would likely be very modest, but it would ensure that all participants ended up with something, without requiring taxpayers to incur the risk of making good on investments gone bad. CONTINUE READING

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