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Public Statements

Retirement Security

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. KOHL. Madam President, I rise today as chairman of the Special Committee on Aging to talk about retirement security in America. In recent years, workers have seen their savings take a hit, with many wondering whether they will ever be able to retire. The current retirement income deficit--in other words, the gap between what Americans will need in retirement and what they will actually have--is $6.6 trillion, according to the nonpartisan Center for Retirement Research at Boston College. Now more than ever, we need to strengthen our Nation's pension and 401(k) systems so that Americans can protect the retirement savings they work a lifetime to earn.

In doing so, we must recognize that today's retirement savings vehicles look a lot different than they did a generation ago. Our current system increasingly places the responsibility for saving on the individual, meaning that people have to make retirement decisions on their own because many employers are not doing it for them. That is why the Aging Committee is working to give people more guidance, more tools, and more protection.

Many Americans are increasingly relying on 401(k)-type defined contribution savings plans to fund their retirement. Having a 401(k) requires an individual to make several proactive decisions, including the decision to save, how much to save, how to invest their savings, whether to take loans out, and how to make their savings last through retirement. The committee's focus has been on helping participants make better decisions. After all, a person should not have to be a financial planning expert in order to plan for a secure retirement.

We are discovering that the best system would have certain automatic features, such as automatic enrollment with escalating contribution rates and target date funds that adjust automatically, combined with options to opt out for those who want to create their own portfolio. We are pushing for more retirement coverage through ideas like better target date funds that are designed in the best interests of participants.

We are collaborating with the Department of Labor on many of these issues and also introducing our own bills in some cases. Senator Tom Harkin and I introduced a bill to require the disclosure of 401(k) fees to participants. A small difference in fees, compounded over a lifetime, can make a huge difference in overall savings. I commend the Labor Department for recently issuing regulations that will bring greater transparency and disclosure of 401(k) fees and make it easier for employers to ensure that their plans' fees are reasonable, and I look forward to reviewing the Department's participant fee disclosure regulations when they are issued this fall. Senators Bingaman, Isakson, and I have introduced the Lifetime Income Disclosure Act, which would have 401(k) statements translate the balance into a potential stream of retirement income. This will help participants save and plan for an adequate retirement. I am also working with my colleagues to ensure that oversight of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, the entity that insures the pensions of more than 44 million workers and retirees, is strengthened.

Of course, we cannot talk about retirement security without talking about Social Security. The Aging Committee recently released a report that lays all the options on the table for making it secure over the long term. We also must make sure that those who rely on it the most are protected. Finally, one of the most important ways to have a secure retirement is to work longer. We are focused on the removal of barriers to working past retirement age for those who choose to do so. Our efforts will keep people in the labor force and encourage employers to offer the benefits and flexibility many are looking for later in life.

In closing, I would like to applaud the many advocacy groups that are striving to create a universal, secure, and adequate pension system. Their efforts to bring necessary attention to the important issue of retirement security are appreciated. Together we will continue our work to improve retirement security for all Americans.


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