Press Release

Bipartisan Pair of Economists Propose Bold New Wealth Building Program for the Bottom 50 Percent of American Workers

Mar 25, 2021

Co-authors Teresa Ghilarducci and Kevin Hassett call for giving workers access to a program modeled after the highly successful Thrift Savings Plan

Washington, D.C. – The Economic Innovation Group (EIG) released a new paper today by a bipartisan pair of economists outlining a transformative proposal to build wealth for low- and moderate-income workers throughout the country. 

The paper, co-authored by Professor Teresa Ghilarducci, a labor economist at the New School and leading expert on retirement security, and Dr. Kevin Hassett, Vice President and Managing Director of The Lindsey Group and the former Chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, explores the potential wealth-building effects of giving disadvantaged workers access to a program modeled after the highly successful federal Thrift Savings Plan (TSP), which is currently available only to federal workers and members of the military. 

The lack of wealth among large shares of Americans is startling: The median net worth for the bottom 25 percent of American families is only $310, and the bottom 50 percent of families hold less than 2 percent of total U.S. wealth. One of the main reasons for this is the lack of retirement savings among low- and moderate-income families: The median retirement savings balance for the bottom 50 percent of American families is $0.

Ghilarducci and Hassett propose a program for low- and moderate-income Americans modeled after the TSP—a highly successful and closely studied program that features automatic enrollment for eligible workers, very low fee ratios, simple plan options, and matching federal contributions. Making such a program broadly available to workers who lack access to an employer sponsored plan would dramatically improve the ability of lower-income workers to build assets over the course of their careers, thereby ensuring a more secure retirement and the ability to pass on wealth to future generations. And it could be achieved at relatively little cost to the federal government while protecting Social Security and avoiding new financial burdens on small businesses.

“The pandemic and recession shattered open already growing gaps in economic opportunity. As the country rebuilds, we need new ideas to build wealth and financial security for American working families. Our bold design for expanding retirement plans is one key step,” said Professor Teresa Ghilarducci. “Low- and moderate-income workers should have access to the same type of proven, expertly-designed savings plan available to every member of Congress and the broader federal workforce.”

“Imagine how healthy and secure our collective future might look if we could diminish wealth disparities,” said Dr. Kevin Hassett. “The persistent lack of wealth at the bottom undermines faith in the basic fairness of our economic system and prevents millions of Americans from enjoying a direct stake in national growth and prosperity. Our proposal would set more American families up for financial independence and help build intergenerational wealth.”

The white paper marks the beginning of EIG’s Inclusive Wealth Building Initiative. In the weeks ahead, EIG will build upon the concept outlined by Ghilarducci and Hassett, developing it into bipartisan legislation that can be considered as part of an effort to rebuild the economy in the wake of the pandemic and economic crisis.

“EIG was founded to bring far-reaching, bipartisan ideas to the forefront of the national debate,” said EIG President and CEO John Lettieri. “This paper marks the start of an exciting new project helping to ensure that every American worker truly has a chance to build wealth, enjoy a secure retirement, and grow a nest egg for future generations. We look forward to working with partners in Congress to develop Professor Ghilarducci and Dr. Hassett’s transformative concept into bipartisan legislation in the weeks ahead.”

Read the Ghilarducci and Hassett white paper at eig.org/inclusive-wealth-building-initiative.

EIG Media Contact: [email protected]

About the Economic Innovation Group (EIG)

The Economic Innovation Group (EIG) is an ideas laboratory and advocacy organization whose mission is to advance solutions that empower entrepreneurs and investors to forge a more dynamic American economy. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., and led by an experienced, bipartisan team, EIG convenes leading experts from the public and private sectors, develops original policy research, and works to advance creative legislative proposals that will bring new jobs, investment, and economic growth to communities across the nation. For more information, visit eig.org.

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