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Workers In Right To Work States Are Less Likely To Have Access To Retirement Plans

Pew Analysis Shows Access to Workplace Retirement Plans
Varies Widely Across States

Big differences among industries, incomes, ages, education, race and ethnicities

Wide differences in access to and participation in employer-based retirement plans exist across states, with variations by employer size and industry type as well as by workers’ income, age, education, race and ethnicity, according to a report released today by The Pew Charitable Trusts.

The report, Who’s In, Who’s Out: A Look at Access to Employer-Based Retirement Plans and Participation in the States, examines the rates of access to and participation in plans in all 50 states and assesses the challenges facing workers and employers in ensuring that Americans have sufficient resources to pay for their retirements.

Access and participation is higher in the Midwest, New England, and parts of the Pacific Northwest—and lower in the South and West. The report also finds that among Hispanic workers, access to a plan is around 25 percentage points below that for white non-Hispanic workers. Black and Asian workers also report lower rates of access than white workers.     

“Access to workplace retirement plans varies widely across the states,” said John Scott, director of Pew’s retirement savings project. “Recognizing the savings challenge faced by so many Americans, half of the states are looking at their own solutions.” 

There is a correlation between traditionally strong union states and access to retirement plans.  Workers in Right To Work (for less) states generally have much less access to retirement plans or pensions.

Below is an chart from the report that shows the percentage of workers who has access to some type of retirement plan.

Screen Shot 2016-01-13 at 11.45.19 AMBelow is the current map of Pro-Labor / Right To Work states.  Notice that the overwhelming majority of Right To Work states have drastically less access to retirement plans. (Note: Wisconsin became a RTW state in March of 2015, Michigan in March of 2013, and Indiana in February of 2012.)


Overall, Pew’s analysis, based on a pooled version of the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey (CPS), found that 58 percent of private sector workers have access to a plan, while 49 percent participate in one. Pew also found that more than 30 million full-time, full-year, private sector workers ages 18 to 64 lack access to an employer-based retirement plan, whether a traditional pension or a defined contribution plan such as a 401(k).

The report notes the numerous efforts at the state and federal levels to increase retirement savings. Illinois, for instance, adopted the Secure Choice Savings Program in 2015, which will start enrolling certain private sector workers in new payroll-deduction retirement accounts by 2017. In another example, the state of Washington created a marketplace in which small employers and the self-employed can shop for retirement plans. In addition, the federal government has rolled out the “myRA,” a new national savings program that is geared toward low-income savers. 

“Workplace retirement savings plans can be a critical piece of the retirement security puzzle,” said Scott. “But for millions of Americans, this piece is missing.”

The collective bargaining process has long been the key to ensuring a fair wage and access to retirement. As union membership declines we are continuing to see a reduction in our wages and access to benefits including retirement plans.  

More detailed information, including state-by-state breakdowns, is available in the report’s online interactive data visualization at www.pewtrusts.org/retirementaccess. 

Click here to download the full report.



About Matt Murray

Matt Murray is the creator and an author on the NH Labor News. He is a union member and advocate for labor and progressive politics. He also works with other unions and members to help spread our message. Follow him on Twitter @NHLabor_News
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