Voters are anxious about their financial future–particularly about their stability after they retire from the workforce. A 2015 survey found that 86 percent of Americans believe “the nation faces a retirement crisis.” Eighty-four percent want “national policymakers to give more attention to retirement issues.” And 67 percent say that that they “would be willing to take less in salary increases in exchange for guaranteed income in retirement.”
Voters are right to be so worried. About one quarter of workers nearing retirement today will have retirement incomes that are so low they will be categorized as poor or near poor. Almost 2 million will have $9 a day or less for food. This downward mobility will create a state local and federal budget crisis, a moral crisis, and an individual household crisis. And it won’t be temporary; more than 8,000 people will turn 65 every day for the next 20 years or so.
So why aren’t Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump talking about voters’ top economic worry, especially in the presidential debates? For one, it may be because there isn’t a huge divide between Republicans and Democrats on ways to solve the retirement crisis. The candidates are determined to prove that they different from each other, and so avoid subjects on which they actually agree. This leaves their core bases of support concentrating on polarized issues. Trump’s core supporters are often described as older, white, and working class. Coincidentally, these are the people most at risk of downward mobility in retirement. However, these voters’ appear to be focusing their economic frustrations on trade and immigration policies, which provides little incentive for their presidential candidate to venture into other areas of economic policy. Clinton’s supporters, on the other hand, are likely diverted from the discussion of detailed, progressive policy positions by the unprecedented need to reassert basic values, such as women’s equality.
But there is proof that, with the right leadership, both parties could endorse a workable solution. At the state level, politicians in both parties are picking up on this anxiety and joining with consumer advocates, unions, and business associations to call for universal retirement accounts. At the time of writing, 29 states have either proposed or enacted some type of retirement reform — and that number is likely to increase by November 8th. These plans are a clear sign that there is the political will for reform. And after the election there will be a political foundation for bipartisan solutions. Earlier this year, the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) issued a report, endorsed by politicians and experts on both sides of the aisle, which proposed that almost all employers be required to offer retirement accounts to supplement Social Security.
A mandated, advanced-funded retirement plan supplementing a strong and expanded Social Security system is a step in the right direction toward comprehensive reform. I support Guaranteed Retirement Accounts (GRAs) which are professionally-managed, universal savings accounts. All workers and their employers are would contribute to a GRA, ensuring that all workers can retire comfortably and with dignity.
The nationwide concern about retirement security will no doubt make it a priority for the next President and Congress. There is no debate on the need for retirement reform.