The Aspen Institute and Common Wealth Offer Vision For 21st Century Retirement System

February 12, 2019

Today’s system leaves 55 million Americans without access to a workplace retirement plan; six in 10 Americans do not own a retirement account

Georgia Gonder
The Aspen Institute
573 291 5990

Janette Luu
Common Wealth
416 371 7669

Washington, DC, and Toronto, Canada, February 12, 2019  – The Aspen Institute Financial Security Program (“Aspen FSP”), a national nonprofit and non-partisan voice on Americans’ financial security, has collaborated with mission-driven Canadian retirement security firm Common Wealth to release a report that proposes an approach for expanding retirement plan coverage to meet the needs of today’s rapidly-changing workforce. The report focuses on portable non-employer retirement benefits – retirement arrangements that are workplace-based, but not tied to any single job or employer.

As America’s workforce grapples with a changing labor market, there is a growing population of workers who lack access to the tools needed to secure a healthy retirement. Today more than 55 million Americans lack access to a workplace retirement plan, ¾ of Americans are worried about their ability to maintain their standard of living in retirement, and nearly six in 10 Americans do not own a retirement account. Poverty among American seniors is nearly twice that of other OECD countries.

These alarming conditions create a clear need for portable retirement benefits that are owned by workers, can accommodate contributions from multiple sources, and which are open to all workers — independent, gig economy, and traditional.

“The employer-based retirement system in the US, while working well for some, is failing millions of others. The ‘stack’ of benefits needed by today’s workforce is simply not what it was even 10 years ago,” said Ida Rademacher, Vice-President at the Aspen Institute, and Executive Director of Aspen FSP. “The problem will only get worse as the nature of work continues to change at such a rapid pace. We must come together as an industry on this critical issue. We need fresh thinking and bold leadership to deliver retirement security in ways that work for today’s reality. This paper and our collaboration with Common Wealth move us toward a new, stronger social safety net for hard-working American families.”

“There’s been increased conversation about the idea of portable benefits in recent years, but we have a very long way to go,” Rademacher continued. “We’re encouraged by policymakers taking early steps — with a regulation on association retirement plans being proposed by the Department of Labor, various auto-IRA programs being implemented in the states, and legislation on multiple employer plans and portable benefits being drafted by a number of lawmakers in recent months. But we also believe the environment is ripe for the creation of new market solutions.”

The expansion of portable non-employer retirement benefits could help fill the gaps not covered by the single-employer-based system. Building a larger market for such benefits requires innovative thinking, new types of plan sponsors, and bold leadership to build a retirement system that is workplace-based, yet also portable, inclusive, accessible, and high-quality.

The report explores six potential models of portable non-employer retirement benefits, led by different groups ranging from associations to labor unions to payroll or platform companies to faith groups. The report includes examples of action already being taken across the globe, with hopes of spurring experiments and pilots within the retirement industry and among employers in the US.

Based on the findings in the report, Aspen FSP held an event last week to build momentum toward action, with participants including executives from Prudential, Etsy, Workers Benefit Fund, AARP, Center for American Progress, Omidyar Network, CFSI, Stride Health, United Way Worldwide, Fidelity, Pew Charitable Trusts, and many others. While the report focuses on identifying and shining a spotlight on existing examples of innovative retirement solutions that meet the changing needs of today’s workforce, the convening brought together leaders with the ability to make real change, to identify which tools workers today need to achieve a secure retirement and to think of additional opportunities to build those products.

“This partnership with the Aspen Institute Financial Security Program has deepened our conviction that portable, collective retirement benefits offer a major opportunity to strengthen financial security in both Canada and the United States. Building an occupational retirement system for the 21st century will require innovation, new forms of collaboration, and benefits that are tailored to the unique needs of a diverse range of uncovered workers. Despite its retirement security challenges, the United States is primed to take further action on this critical social and economic issue,” said Alex Mazer, Founding Partner of Common Wealth.

To learn more about retirement security, please visit the Aspen Institute Financial Security Program website, or Common Wealth’s website. You may also be interested in these recent reports:


About The Aspen Institute Financial Security Program

The Aspen Institute Financial Security Program’s (FSP) mission is to illuminate and solve the most critical financial challenges facing American households and to make financial security for all a top national priority. We aim for nothing less than a more inclusive economy with reduced wealth inequality and shared prosperity. We believe that transformational change requires innovation, trust, leadership, and entrepreneurial thinking. FSP galvanizes a diverse set of leaders across the public, private, and nonprofit sectors to solve the most critical financial challenges. We do this through deep, deliberate private and public dialogues and by elevating evidence-based research and solutions that will strengthen the financial health and security of financially vulnerable Americans.

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, DC. Its mission is to foster leadership based on enduring values and to provide a nonpartisan venue for dealing with critical issues. The Institute has campuses in Aspen, Colorado, and on the Wye River on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. It also maintains offices in New York City and has an international network of partners.

About Common Wealth

Common Wealth is a mission-driven business focused on expanding access to retirement security. Based in Toronto, Common Wealth designs and manages collective retirement plans for groups of workers who are uncovered or underserved by traditional workplace retirement plans. Recently, the company partnered with SEIU to create the first retirement plan in Canada for lower- and moderate-income earners, and is currently working with a group of foundations and employers to create a national, portable retirement plan for Canada’s not-for-profit sector. Common Wealth also advises and partners with a wide range of institutions in both Canada and the United States on initiatives that will materially strengthen retirement security, including governments, unions, associations, and pension funds, with collective assets under management exceeding $800 billion.

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