Making the Golden Years Golden for All Americans

by Gerald E. Scorse / December 20th, 2017

Congress created individual retirement accounts (IRAs) in 1974. Four years later it added 401(k)s. A third variety, Roth IRAs, won approval in 1997. Together the accounts dominate America’s private retirement system.

Today we’re a hugely unequal society. Updating our private system could reduce inequality, and help make the golden years golden for all Americans.

Let’s begin with the millions of workers we’re not even giving a chance:

The 1974 bill aimed to provide a workplace retirement plan for all private-sector employees not otherwise covered. Forty-three years later over 70 million workers, mostly low- to middle-income, still lack a workplace option.

They deserve at least two. One would be a broad stock market index fund like the S&P 500. For savers who put safety first, the other would be a bond fund holding only Treasury debt. Enrollment would be automatic with an opt-out provision. Pre-tax contributions would be made via payroll deductions. Gains would accrue tax-free, taxes payable on withdrawal (the same as all current accounts except Roths).

States could set up accounts on their own (as Oregon already has), but Congress could do the job in a single stroke. Both 2008 presidential candidates, Senator John McCain (R-NV) and Barack Obama, endorsed a federal Automatic IRA plan. Obama later included the idea in a budget outline, but it never went any farther.

It should have. Well into the 21st century, private…

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