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ICMA-RC and the Center for State and Local Government Excellence Introduce New Study Examining Public Employee Attitudes Toward Retirement and Auto-Enrollment

March 22, 2019

The Center for State and Local Government Excellence (SLGE) and ICMA-RC announced results from a new survey released today that finds nearly half of state and local employees approve of auto-enrollment in defined contribution plans, known as Supplemental Retirement Plans (SRPs), and 77 percent would choose to stay in a plan if auto-enrolled. Few states currently offer auto-enrollment in SRPs, a retirement plan feature that is widely available in the private sector.

The research also finds that among those who would stay in the plan, higher default deferral rates result in respondents settling on a higher contribution rate.

These findings are contained in new research conducted by the Center for State and Local Government Excellence (SLGE) and Greenwald & Associates, Nudging Deferral Rates Within Public Sector Supplemental Retirement Plans, from SLGE and ICMA-RC.

The survey assesses public employee perceptions of auto-enrollment into SRPs and the impact of varying default deferral rates on an employee’s likelihood to stay in the plan. It also examines the attitudes and behaviors of public sector employees regarding retirement savings, their progress toward financial security, and issues driving their plan participation.

Download the report here.

“The findings are critically important given that the responsibility of saving for retirement in the public sector is shifting from the employer to the employee in many jurisdictions,” said Rivka Liss-Levinson, Ph.D., SLGE director of research and report author. “The fact that those presented with a seven percent default settled on a significantly higher rate than the group given the one percent default rate is important. This suggests that employers, retirement plan providers and policymakers should consider how small nudges – such as changing the default rate for auto-enrollment in an SRP – can combat inertia and impact an employees’ ability to save for retirement,” she explained.

“ICMA-RC is pleased to partner with the Center for State and Local Government Excellence on this important study examining retirement preferences in the public sector,” said Angela Montez, senior vice president, general counsel & chief legal officer for ICMA-RC. “Retirement savings plans complement traditional government defined benefit plans and auto enrollment makes supplemental plans stronger, thereby enhancing state and local government employees’ ability to build retirement security.”

Other report key findings are as follows:

  • Nearly half (47 percent) of respondents approve of auto-enrollment in an SRP, and 44 percent approve of employers setting an employee’s default rate. Strong approval of auto-enrollment declines from 24 percent to 12 percent when the default is set at seven percent rather than one percent.
  • Respondents hold divided views on auto-escalation in supplemental plans, with slightly more disapproving (38 percent) than approving (30 percent). Approval and disapproval are affected by default rate, with lower approval among those presented with a higher default rate. Nearly four in five participants (79 percent) are satisfied with their retirement plan.
  • Most owe some type of consumer debt (84 percent) and have savings goals in addition to retirement (85 percent). About two-thirds of these respondents (67 percent) say their debt or savings goals have prevented them from saving more for retirement.
  • A slim majority want more information about general financial issues and retirement planning. About three in ten would welcome an increase in one-on-one in-person communication by employers and financial services companies.

SLGE and ICMA-RC will host a complimentary webinar on Tuesday, May 7, 2019, at 2:00 PM ET to review the findings. Register here.

SLGE gratefully acknowledges ICMA-RC for their support of the research.

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