Daniel Biss—the Illinois state rep senatorand MIT Ph.D.—was the lead sponsor of the legislation, and Governor Quinn just signed it into law this Sunday, making Illinois the first state in the nation to implement an automatic, opt-out retirement-savings plan. And it’s an idea with something of a Chicago pedigree, as the publication of Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler’s influential Nudge gave opt-out programs a boost at the political level.
Having an automatic deduction of three percent from your paycheck might initially give you a bit of the big-brother willies at first. It’s voluntary, but it’s voluntary opt-out, not voluntary opt-in, which has been the standard for most of the history of 401(k) and programs of the like. But the private sector has been moving quickly towards automatic enrollment, from five percent in 2005 to 21 percent in 2010. And people don’t opt out:
“The investment company Vanguard, which administers 3.4 million workers’ 401(k) plans, found that at companies with voluntary enrollment, only 59 percent of employees participated in 401(k) plans. At companies with automatic enrollment, 86 percent did — and that figure is surely an understatement, since it includes all workers at companies that have automatic enrollment, even though the vast majority offer it only to their new employees.”
Furthermore, it moves younger adults into retirement plans at substantial rates: “Fidelity, a Vanguard competitor, says 76 percent of 20- to 24-year-old workers stay in its opt-out plans, compared with 20 percent who sign up for opt-in plans.” It doesn’t guarantee universal retirement savings, but it gets remarkably close among the working population.
And while it’s touted for increasing “participation rates of newly hired employees dramatically, particularly among women, minorities, and low-income earners,” there’s remarkably little geographic pattern across Chicago and the Chicagoland area. In 2012 the Woodstock Institute looked at the lack of retirement savings among the working population in the state, and it’s remarkable for how consistent the percentage of enrolled and unenrolled workers is across the area.