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Many in Illinois Retirement Savings Program Feel Their Financial Security Is Improving


Many of those participating in the Illinois Secure Choice retirement savings program for private sector workers expressed positive views of the program in a survey conducted for The Pew Charitable Trusts.

The state-sponsored retirement plan, launched in 2018, automatically enrolls workers at businesses with at least 25 employees that do not already offer a plan. Eligible participants can opt out of the individual retirement account program—commonly referred to as an auto-IRA—at any time. The survey provides insights into how the program is working for savers.

The RAND Corp. conducted a series of surveys for Pew with adults eligible to participate in Illinois Secure Choice, reaching out to a representative sample of workers enrolled in the program as well as those who opted out. The survey was conducted in three waves at roughly six-month intervals from March 2020 through April 2021. This article looks at findings for 1,232 respondents who completed the final wave conducted from March to April 2021.

Auto-IRA programs can help individuals gain access to workplace retirement saving opportunities and improve their long-term financial security. Initial reactions in Illinois have been positive. Nearly 4 in 10 of those enrolled in the program say that Illinois Secure Choice has made them feel more financially secure. Although about half said that the program to this point has had no impact on their feeling of financial security, savers who did report an impact were more likely to say it was positive than negative.

Workers appear to be happy with the program. When asked to provide an overall evaluation of their experience, nearly everyone—about 96%—said they were satisfied or neutral. Slightly more than 6 in 10 reported that they were either very or somewhat satisfied. Pew research examining employer attitudes about a similar program in Oregon, known as OregonSaves, found that 73% of participating businesses were satisfied or had a neutral experience. Combined, these results suggest that satisfaction is strong for businesses and employees participating in auto-IRA programs.

The positive experiences are also reflected in participants’ evaluations of trust in the program. Illinois Secure Choice communicates directly with eligible participants about important program details such as account setup, the opt-out process, investments, and account management. About two-thirds of participants reported that they either strongly or somewhat agree with this statement: “I trust information from Illinois Secure Choice.” Only 5% of savers disagreed.

The results show that savers taking part in the Illinois Secure Choice program are more likely than not to say that if the program had an impact on their financial security, it was positive; that they are satisfied with their experience; and that they trust the program. State-sponsored auto-IRA programs are providing workers with meaningful access to a way to save for retirement through regular withdrawals from their paychecks.

Illinois, Oregon, and California are all now enrolling savers into such programs. Five additional states—Colorado, Connecticut, Maryland, New Jersey, and Virginia—have authorized auto-IRAs and will be enrolling savers in the years to come. Understanding the participant experience is important as these programs continue to scale up and as other states enact their own.

John Scott is the director and Mark Hines is a principal associate with The Pew Charitable Trusts’ retirement savings project.

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