It’s a new year, there’s a new Congress, and we have a new opportunity to prevent terms like “senior poverty” from becoming the norm. Simply put, our nation and Congress must address the looming retirement security crisis that threatens to cripple the future for millions of people.
Around one in three Americans have less than $5,000 saved for retirement, with even those closest to retirement age unprepared. An estimated 40 percent of Baby Boomers lack sufficient resources to maintain their living standard in retirement. That’s alarming, and experts say most people will have little more than Social Security to live on and will be worse off than their parents and grandparents. In fact, within the next six years, “senior poverty” could become the new normal.
Part of that is thanks to employers failing to offer responsible saving options and shifting those responsibilities to workers. Meanwhile, wages have barely grown as costs continue to rise. This leaves Americans who deserve predictability in their future with few choices in the present. You shouldn’t have to choose between food for the kids or saving for retirement, but far too many make this choice every day.
To make matters worse, our existing pension system is at risk, which means workers could be left without their hard-earned checks. During the 2008 financial crisis, public-sector pension plans lost around $35 billion in assets, and some private-sector pensions could become insolvent over the next 20 years. There are solutions on the table, and one of the first bills I’ve supported in this Congress is a bipartisan measure to stabilize at-risk pension plans. After the financial collapse, Congress acted to take care of Wall Street. Now, we must act to ensure that everyday Americans aren’t left out in the cold.
Last year, I was one of four House Democrats appointed to the Joint Select Committee on Multiemployer Pensions to work on solving this problem. I joined the Joint Committee to bring a unique perspective from my 37-year involvement in the multiemployer pension system, as both a rank-and-file worker and negotiator. I was an electrician for decades and a business agent for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 351, as well as President of the Southern New Jersey AFL-CIO. I’ve worked with and on behalf of thousands of workers and helped implement local and state initiatives, like raising the minimum wage, that help workers to secure their futures.
Living wages are the fuel for our retirement system, providing workers with the opportunity to save for their golden years. That’s why one of my top priorities in Congress is to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour responsibly over the next seven years, so millions of full-time working Americans have enough money to take care of their families, pay rent, buy life-saving prescriptions, and save for retirement.
We must also create retirement tools that encourage people to save early and often. For example, right now it’s tougher for gig economy workers and those at small businesses to save where there’s no pension system in place. We can enact simple reforms to make it easier for these individuals and small employers to band together to create and maintain a pension plan. By offering tax credits to help them get plans off the ground, we’ll be making it easier for everyone to save properly. Additionally, we can incentivize the use of automatic enrollment and encourage employers to include lifetime income disclosures in employees’ retirement income packages, ensuring they’re more informed and prepared for the future.
So as new and returning members of Congress adjust to their roles, we must not let retirement insecurity become the new normal. In this Congress, I will urge all my colleagues to reflect on this impending crisis and work with me on solutions. The future security of countless hardworking men and women depends on it.
Donald Norcross is the U.S. Representative for New Jersey’s 1st Congressional District.