Viewpoints

CalSavers will enable 7.5 million more workers to start preparing for retirement

Workers sort radicchio crops in a packing plant in Le Gran in Merced County on Jan. 27, 2017.
Workers sort radicchio crops in a packing plant in Le Gran in Merced County on Jan. 27, 2017. NYT

California is home to the world’s fifth-largest economy and some of its wealthiest corporations, but our state still has the highest poverty rate in the nation. Legions of California workers — from young gig workers to older laborers — have little to no savings, and face the very real prospect of retiring into poverty.

That is why I worked with State Senator Kevin de León and others to build a new retirement savings program that will provide a path to a secure retirement for 7.5 million working Californians, or over 40 percent of the state’s workforce. CalSavers will facilitate the most sweeping and ambitious expansion of retirement security since the passage of Social Security more than 80 years ago.

And an expansion of retirement security has been desperately needed for a while. Studies show 75 percent of the state’s low- and middle-income retirees rely solely on Social Security for their livelihood, and nearly half of California’s workers are projected to retire into economic hardship. Additionally, Californians over 65 are the fastest-growing segment of the population, which means a retirement savings crisis is growing in California. As these seniors’ savings lag, there will be even more strain on publicly funded health and social service programs. Meanwhile, millions of younger workers lack access to retirement savings options, like a 401(k), at work.

That’s why we launched CalSavers. Employers can now apply to be pilot employers in the program, so that their employees can begin saving. The pilot is aimed at fine-tuning the program ahead of opening statewide to all eligible employers in mid-2019.

Lorenzo Harris, owner of Janico Building Services in North Highlands, was the first business owner in the state to sign up. Like many small business owners, Harris was discouraged by the status quo with high administrative costs and the massive headache of single-handedly offering retirement savings to his 41 employees. But now, thanks to CalSavers, his employees can save for the future with little effort.

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In Sacramento County alone, more than 5,800 employers and nearly 110,000 of their employees are eligible for this retirement savings program.

CalSavers offers employees a voluntary, low-cost, portable and professionally managed retirement savings option. There is no cost to taxpayers and there are no fees for employers.

John Chiang recent.jpg
John Chiang

Business owners can apply to be early adopters at www.CalSavers.com.

Employers that don’t join the pilot will be able to register when the program launches fully statewide next year. Those with 100 or more employees that don’t offer a retirement savings option will have a year from the full program launch date to register. Those with 50 or more employees that are eligible will have to register within two years, and those eligible with five or more employees will be required to register by the end of year three. Eligible employers of any size can register at any time come next July.

CalSavers is revolutionizing efforts to help workers plan for their retirements. Californians must have the opportunity to live their golden years with dignity and financial security, and CalSavers will ensure we leave no worker behind to retire into poverty.

John Chiang is the California state treasurer. He may be reached at John.Chiang@treasurer.ca.gov.
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