Despite the economic stress caused by the pandemic — or possibly because of it — interest in state private-sector retirement programs continues to grow.
"It seems like momentum is picking up," said Tobias Read, treasurer of Oregon, the first state to launch a retirement savings program for private-sector workers. Mr. Read regularly talks with officials in Nevada, Pennsylvania, Hawaii and other states interested in starting their own programs. "People really get the power of what we have done here. We are turning apathy and inertia into an ally," Mr. Read said.
Virginia and Wisconsin are the latest examples of the trend.
In Virginia, legislation establishing an auto IRA appears headed for passage, propelled in part by an estimate that inaction would cost Virginia taxpayers $11.8 billion over the next 15 years due to a lack of retirement preparedness and increased reliance on social services.
The bill's sponsor, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Luke Torian, D-Prince William, said the new program, to be housed within the state's 529 office but administered by a separate board, is an opportunity for all Virginia workers to build portable savings.
"I am hopeful that Virginia529 can do for retirement planning what it did for college savings," he said.
Earlier this month, a Wisconsin retirement security task force convened by the governor recommended a private sector auto-IRA program, WisconsinSaves, and incentives to encourage auto enrollment in workplace plans. Wisconsin was "in trouble when it comes to retirement security" even before the coronavirus pandemic, the report noted.
The pandemic and some of the political measures being taken to help people impacted by it may be responsible for some of that momentum, said Angela M. Antonelli, executive director of Georgetown University's Center for Retirement Initiatives. She noted that one COVID- 19 relief measure, the CARES Act, could negatively affect retirement security because it allows people experiencing hardships to tap into their retirement accounts, making an acknowledged retirement security problem even worse.
"When the sun shines, there is going to be a greater appreciation for savings. Emerging from all of this is the value of helping people," Ms. Antonelli said.