Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Ind. and presidential candidate, recently unveiled his plan for a public 401(k) option.
Released in late November, the plan focuses on ensuring “all Americans experience dignity and security in retirement.”
“I am determined to usher in a new era for older Americans, one that empowers them to age and retire with dignity,” Buttigieg said on his campaign website.
Buttigieg said his plan will:
• Institute a Public Option 401(k) so that all workers have the opportunity to supplement their Social Security benefits if they choose with employer contributions. This will enable the typical worker to retire with over $500,000 in the Public Option 401(k), Buttigieg claimed. “All Public Option 401(k) investments will have low fees so that workers, not financial institutions, make extra money on hard-earned savings,” the website said.
• Give workers the choice to enroll in a standard savings plan with a substantial employer match and let them opt out at any time.
• Help American families weather financial emergencies with a Rainy Day Account within the Public Option 401(k).
• Fully protect Social Security for the next generation without cutting anyone’s benefits “by ensuring the most fortunate pay their fair share.” The campaign vowed to “work with Congress to protect Social Security forever by automatically adjusting tax rates for high earners.”
• Increase Social Security benefits to keep vulnerable seniors out of poverty.
• Value family care work like professional employment—by counting years spent caring for a child, elderly, or disabled dependent toward Social Security benefits.
• Establish Long-Term Care America, a long-term services and supports program. Those eligible will receive a fully covered benefit of $90 per day for long-term care for as long as they need it. Of people currently 65 or older, 11.3 million people will receive benefits from the program at some point in their life, the campaign estimated.
• Strengthen the private long-term care insurance market for those with shorter-term long-term care needs by standardizing plans and establishing a long-term care insurance marketplace.
As for the details of his long-term care proposals, Buttigieg points to a pair of white papers on the topic, one of which was produced by the Urban Institute. The institute paper points to a specific funding source: “an additional tax of about 1.0 percent of earned Medicare-covered income.”
In a Sunday editorial, the Wall Street Journal said Buttigieg’s retirement proposals add up to a $1 trillion tax on the middle class.
Paired with the plan’s proposal to expand Social Security and revamp long-term care for elderly Americans, Buttigieg’s plan sets the bar pretty high.
“It’s an impressive platform,” Jamie Hopkins, director of retirement research at the Carson Group said.
From a platform standpoint, Hopkins said Buttigieg homed in on the three big issues facing retirement security in America, calling long-term care “the biggest unfunded risk out there for retirement planning.”
“Almost nobody has long-term care planning in place, Hopkins added. “And that’s really the part that decimates retirement portfolios. So, I think it’s awesome that he’s focusing on that one.”
While Hopkins applauded Buttigieg’s plan for addressing long-term care concerns, he’s skeptical about the candidate’s public option 401(k) plan.
“Roughly half of all Americans do not have a workplace retirement plan, often because their employer either doesn’t offer one or doesn’t offer a matching contribution that makes saving attractive,” Buttigieg’s campaign website reads.
The plan would require employers to contribute a 3% match to all employee retirement plans in which employees contribute 1.5%, something that in reality, Hopkins said, might cause more harm than good.
“That would be seen as a pretty robust plan at that point,” he said.
Hopkins’ concern is over whether or not employers could actually fund this plan without a significant amount of hardship, specifically smaller companies, where the costs could be significant.
Most mid-sized to large companies have a retirement plan that they offer and some sort of match, Hopkins noted, and a federal law mandating a 3% match could harm employees whose companies match at higher percentages.
“I would also expect that a federal 401(k) plan, first of all, would need legislation and two, it would get tremendous resistance from the private market,” he said.
Hopkins summarizes the plan as asking two crucial questions regarding the current retirement planning and finance system:
1. How do we increase the number of people saving for retirement?
2. How can we increase incentives for employers to contribute?
Cassie Miller is a contributing writer for AdvisorNews. She has spent nearly two years covering Finserv topics. She also has an extensive background in magazine writing, editing and design.