U.S. Retirement Plan Coverage Falls Even Farther

August 13, 2020

Research note— New research shows that even before the COVID-19 recession, only 36% of workers ages 25-64 were participating in a retirement plan at work, a five percentage point decrease from five years prior.

Authors: Teresa Ghilarducci and Michael Papadopoulos
"Retirement Plan Access and Participation by Industry, Firm, and Worker Characteristics," a research note from SCEPA's Retirement Equity Lab, finds that most workers do not have access nor participate in any retirement plan at work and that retirement plan participation has steadily declined over the last five years, from 41.4% in 2013-14 to 36.2% in 2017-18.

Key highlights from the research note, summarized in the table below, also include consistent racial disparities in retirement plan participation as well as disparities in participation based on union contracts and by firm size. While disparities are stark, coverage is seriously lacking for workers in all categories.

Most workers between the ages of 25 to 64 do not even have access to a 401(k)–type plan or a traditional pension at work because their employer does not offer it. They are left on their own to save. The failure of our current system stems from relying on employers to voluntarily provide a retirement plan to their workers. In the crucial years before retirement, older workers have their last chance to shore up retirement savings before exiting the labor force. However, because many employers choose not to offer a retirement plan, the share of full-time workers aged 55 to 64 participating in a plan declined in recent years.

Download the PDF to see the most recent numbers.