White House

Obama pushes states to help millions more save for retirement

President Barack Obama speaks during the 2015 White House Conference on Aging, Monday, July 13, 2015, in the East Room of the White House in Washington. The president said a secure retirement is a critical component of what it means to be middle class in America.
President Barack Obama speaks during the 2015 White House Conference on Aging, Monday, July 13, 2015, in the East Room of the White House in Washington. The president said a secure retirement is a critical component of what it means to be middle class in America. AP

President Barack Obama is renewing a push to help the one-third of American workers who do not have retirement plans through work save better.

“That’s only fair,” he said at a White House Conference on Aging, which brought together government officials, health care professionals, private-sector entrepreneurs and senior citizens to discuss the challenges posed by the country’s aging population.

“And that’s all we’re trying to do here, is make sure that if you’re working hard out there, even if you’re not making goo-gobs of money and don’t have fancy financial advisers and all that, that you can still put away a little nest egg so that you’re protected when you get older,” the president said.

Obama directed the Department of Labor to produce suggestions for the states by the end of the year on how to get the roughly 30 million Americans without workplace-based retirement plans started saving for life after work. These could include enticing more employers to create 401(k)-type plans or requiring employers not currently offering retirement plans to enroll their employees in IRAs.

The president praised Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security and said the programs reaffirmed the greatness of the United States, allowing older Americans who had worked hard to retire independently. He used his grandmother as an example, saying Medicare and Social Security allowed her to continue to live on her own after she had retired and his grandfather died.

“She had the confidence that, having worked hard, played by the rules, she was rewarded with a safe foundation for retirement and she could not fall through those cracks,” Obama said. “That was a promise this country made to her and all its citizens. And as a grateful grandson – who happens to be president – that is a promise I’m going to make sure we’re going to keep for future generations.“

Before the president’s remarks, Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell announced a $35 million grant to expand training programs for geriatric health care, a move applauded by senior care workers and advocates.

“We have to address our long-term care system in addition to helping families save money for retirement,” said Sarita Gupta, co-director of Caring Across Generations, a group that advocates for better care for seniors and better protections for caregivers.

Gupta said the public and private sectors need to work in tandem to ensure retirement and adequate health care are attainable for all Americans regardless of income.

Molita Cunningham, a Miami home care worker who attended the conference, said she loves her job but needs help.

“Men and women want to live in their homes and live as independently as possible – as long as possible. And even though home care jobs are the fastest growing in the country, we need more to meet the demand of seniors and people with disabilities who need our care,” she said.

“I make $10 an hour and I work upwards of 100 hours a week to put food on the table for my three children,” she said. “I love my job, but I can’t afford to do simple things like put gas in the car, take sick leave or time off to see my son’s track meets. To meet the growing demand of seniors who need care, we need to make home care jobs more sustainable and that starts with giving us $15 and a union.”

Liz Loewy, senior vice president of EverSafe, which monitors bank accounts and credit cards to protect against fraud, also urged increased public- and private-sector collaboration to combat rising difficulties faced by a rapidly aging American public.

She spoke about elder financial abuse at the conference.

“If you go out and ask someone on the street what elder abuse is, they’ll say an old woman with a black eye,” said Lowey, a former chief of the elder abuse unit of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office. “But all the research shows financial abuse is the most common form of (elder) abuse. But it’s invisible.”

She said she was excited by the focus on caregiving and caregivers at the conference and about the push to discuss solutions rather than rehashing the problems.

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