People don’t have to be their own worst enemies.
Those who study such things say that far too many people who are within spitting distance of retirement age are financially unprepared for it.
“Nearly half of all households headed by someone 55 and older have no retirement savings whatsoever,” said Bob Gallo, Illinois state director for AARP.
In that context, two recent news stories speak volumes about a solution and a problem that relates to the issue of individuals and families providing for themselves as they approach the end of their working years.
The No. 1 problem, of course, is that many of those who would like to be able to slow down and quit working won’t be able to do so. While work has its virtues, having to work while wishing to be retired is not one of them.
That’s why state Treasurer Michael Frerichs’ recent announcement about a new state-promoted savings plan represents a step in the right direction.
He reports that 32,000 Illinois residents have enrolled in Illinois Secure Choice, a program that requires companies in operation for more than two years and with more than 25 employees to offer either an independent retirement plan or Secure Choice.
Of course, these individuals are free to start their own individual retirement accounts. But that can be daunting for those who have little money to contribute or are not familiar with the ins and outs of this vitally important savings vehicle.
Secure Choice gets around that kind of reluctance by providing what’s called a “nudge” — automatic enrollment in a payroll deduction plan. Individuals are free to opt out, but the nudge encourages savings by getting around the widespread human instinct to defer to the status quo.
At any rate, in an effort to further promote this savings tool for those who might not otherwise have one, Frerichs recently announced that the 32,000 enrolled have deposited a total of $8.5 million in Secure Choice. More will follow, he said.
If that sounds like a lot, it isn’t — it’s roughly $265 per person. But it’s a start, perhaps the beginning of a valuable habit of saving for the future rather than living for today. It’s difficult to emphasize enough just how important it is to live an orderly, financially secure life.
But at the same time Frerichs was touting his savings wares, the Champaign City Council was moving in a different direction by encouraging people to do the opposite of saving for the future.
The council this week authorized businesses with video-gambling machines to increase their inventory of machines from five to six, a move that’s in line with a recent change in state law.
Council member Greg Stock, who opposed the measure, complained the city is contributing to greater financial despair by making it easier for people to “throw away” their money.
But fellow council member Tom Bruno took a more hard-headed approach, asserting that “artificially limiting the number of terminals would be about as useful a way to address gambling as it would be to address alcoholism by limiting the number of aisles a liquor store could have.”
The bottom line for the city, of course, is the bottom line — it wants the additional revenue.
That point was emphasized by local bar owner Eric Meyer, who noted that the city’s cut of the $16.8 million in gambling losses in fiscal 2019 was $840,000. More machines, he said, means more tax revenue.
“Our success is your success,” he said.
But at whose expense does that success come? But does it matter — hasn’t it long been true that a fool and his money are soon parted?
The problem is human nature — and that, for the most part, is not fixable. Do people save for a rainy day? Certainly. Do people impulsively pursue immediate pleasures that exact future costs? No doubt about it.
It’s just not individuals who are conflicted about the path to follow. So are governmental entities and the people who run them.
Call it the way of the world. Still, the program Frerichs is promoting is a way to a healthier, happier world for all concerned.