At least two out of five U.S. workers don't have retirement plans through their employers, according to the trade group Investment Company...

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At least two out of five U.S. workers don’t have retirement plans through their employers, according to the trade group Investment Company Institute (ICI).

The issue particularly affects low- to moderate-income workers and ones employed by small businesses and is a top public-policy problem, experts say.

Those workers “will be almost 100 percent dependent on the Social Security system, and that’s a system, as we all know, that may not be able to support all of those people,” says James Riepe, retired vice chairman of T. Rowe Price Group, speaking at a recent ICI conference.

Ideas to help employers encourage workers to save range from automatic payroll deductions to fund Individual Retirement Accounts to a government-sponsored clearinghouse contracting with the private sector to invest employee contributions.

Efforts to bring federal legislation are under way but experts say enactment might take years.

In 2006, Congress passed the Pension Protection Act with an automatic enrollment provision designed to spur increased retirement savings. Workers are signed up unless they opt out. The Labor Department expects auto enrollment will boost retirement savings in 401(k)-type plans by as much as $134 billion by 2034.

“Research has shown once people are in these plans and actually started on the road toward saving, they rarely pull back,” says ICI spokesman Ed Giltenan.

The Pension Rights Center, a consumer group, last year released a major report on improving pension coverage, but Karen Friedman, its policy director, says access is only part of the problem. The other piece is saving enough.

The economy is weakening, education and health-care costs are rising and income disparity between high-paid and low-paid workers is widening, she says. “So just telling people to save for themselves, while a worthy goal, may not be sufficient,” Friedman says.