As the two major parties complete their conventions, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton will now take their case directly to the voting public. For the next few months we will be inundated with polling and analysis of voters in swing states, key blocks of voters, and which way those voters may break to determine our next President. One issue that resonates across all blocks of voters -- but that we hear almost nothing about from the candidates -- is retirement security.
For all but the wealthiest in the United States, the dream of retiring with dignity after a lifetime of working hard and playing by the rules is almost gone. We know that many employers in the private sector have moved away from secure defined benefit pensions toward risky 401(k)-style retirement accounts. But worse than that, a recent study by the Pew Charitable Trusts found that 30 million Americans are not offered access to a retirement savings plan through work. For women, people of color, and young people burdened with student loan debt, saving for retirement is difficult if not impossible.
Women, if lucky enough to be in a workplace that offers a retirement plan, may be excluded from participating because they are more likely to work part-time or leave the workforce for caretaking duties. The combination of missed time in the workforce plus a pay gap that sits at 89 cents on the dollar doubly harms women in retirement. The National Institute for Retirement Security found that women are 80 percent more likely to be in poverty in retirement than a man is. For those workers with 401(k)-style accounts, the median account balance for women was a third less than for men. That median amount for women is $24,446 - not nearly enough to provide income for an entire retirement.
African American and Latino households, too, face an uphill battle to achieving a secure retirement. Three out of four African American households have less than $10,000 saved for retirement and Latinos fare even worse with four out of five Hispanic households having less than $10,000 in retirement savings. A staggering 69 percent of working age Hispanic households do not own assets in a retirement account and just 12 percent of Latino households are covered by a pension plan. Lack of access to a retirement savings plan is a major challenge for African American and Latino households that must be addressed.
Another story we're all familiar with is the crushing burden of student loan debt many are dealing with in this country. This debt, too, impacts Americans' ability to focus on the future and save for retirement. A recent poll conducted by the American Institute of CPAs found that 80 percent of Americans have made some kind of financial sacrifice to make student loan payments with 50 percent of Americans saying they have delayed payments into retirement accounts. Millennials know that saving for retirement is important, but few do so because they are faced with impossible choices. It's no wonder that only one in five young people feel confident they will have enough money to live comfortably after their retirement. The decrease of retirement security, along with the rising threats of high student debt, will continue to erode the economic certainty of our young people until we prioritize turning things around.
The platforms of the two major parties suggest very different approaches to solving our nationwide retirement crisis. The Republican Party Platform calls for Social Security reform, but since they think all options should be on the table, that could include privatization. They call for "portability" in pension plans, which many states already offer. This could certainly be expanded, but should not be a call to move public employees out of pensions into risky 401(k)-style accounts.
The Democratic Party platform, which will be voted on this week, has a much larger section on retirement security. They address the need to preserve and protect public pensions, and plan to "expand Social Security so that every American can retire with dignity and respect, including women who are shortchanged by the current system because they are widowed or took time out of the workforce to care for their children, aging parents, or ailing family members."
As candidates hit the trail this fall, they should call for the protection and expansion of retirement savings and access. Pensions should be offered to more categories of workers. Options to get coverage for the millions of Americans who lack a retirement savings plan through work should be on the table. Gutting pensions or privatizing Social Security will leave us in a bigger mess than we are already in, with the dream of retirement gone for the majority of our country.
Bailey Childers is the executive director of the National Public Pension Coalition.