Last week my boss, Assistant Director Bob Wilson, and I traveled to Washington, D.C. for a retirement conference and to visit with Missouri policy makers to promote public pensions and Missouri’s local government workers. Our goals throughout our meetings were to drive home the messages that public pension plans are a vital tools for building strong communities in Missouri and that LAGERS is truly getting it right in this space. Here is a quick re-cap of our entire trip.
Day One: National Institute on Retirement Security “Retirement Realities” Conference
This one day conference focused on the retirement savings crisis in America, especially as it relates to women’s financial issues. Congresswoman Jan Schakowsy (D-IL) talked about how the retirement dream of travel and going out to dinner is “so 20th century.” She said that because of the decline in pension plans and lack of individual savings, the retirement landscape has changed dramatically. She presented some sobering statistics but also spoke about what is being done on the federal level to turn things around. Most notably, the federal government stepping aside and allowing states to start savings programs for people who don’t have access to workplace retirement accounts.
Diane Oakley, the Executive Director of the National Institute on Retirement Security, unveiled a new report about the retirement prospects for American women noting that women age 65 and older are 80% more likely than men to live in poverty.
One of the most interesting speakers of the day was Lara Hinz from the Women’s Institute for a Secure Retirement (WISER). She highlighted a program called the Appalachian Savings Project that focused on improving retirement savings for low-income childcare workers in Ohio and West Virginia, many of whom earn around $18,000 a year. The idea is that anyone can save even a small amount. The project provides incentives for saving and invests the money in U.S. bonds. The success of the program has been incredible, with the average participant saving 5.5% of their income toward retirement! That is an astounding amount of money for a low-income worker.
Later that day Bob and I hopped in a cab and sped off to the office of GOVERNING magazine where we talked with a reporter about how well-managed public pensions, like LAGERS, are sustainable and help build strong communities. We are keeping our fingers crossed, hoping to see a story in the magazine or online soon!
Day Two: Meetings with Federal Policymakers
The last day in D.C. was spent visiting the offices of Missouri’s Senators and members of Congress. We relayed the positive economic impact LAGERS has on their districts and spoke about how we are partnering with their constituents to promote retirement security. Over and over, throughout the day, we heard things like,
“Sounds like it ain’t broke, so we don’t need to try and fix anything.”
“Keep our constituents happy.”
“Keep up the good work. A lot of my constituents are counting on you for their retirement.”
With feedback like this, it seems our message is working.
For the most part, the folks we talked to seemed to recognize that there is a retirement savings crisis in this country, something needs to be done about it, and good pension plans like LAGERS play a vital role in retirement security and building strong communities.
Message delivered, message received, for now.