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Where you live may determine if you can get a retirement plan: About 40% of U.S. workers lack saving-plan access.

Americans who want to retire may face very unequal paths to get there depending on where they live.

Workplace retirement p l a n s , s u c h a s 4 0 1 ( k ) accounts, have become a critical retirement savings tool for most Americans. Yet about 40 percent of full-time private sector workers in the U.S. lack access to an employer-based retirement saving plan.

And access varies drastically across the country and even within a state, according to a study released Tuesday by the Pew Charitable Trusts.

The disparity is stark: workers in Grand Rapids, Mich., had the highest rate of access in the U.S. at 71 percent, but only 23 percent of workers in McAllen, Texas did, making it the lowest in the country. Nationwide, 58 percent have access to a plan.

It’s an issue of growing importance on a local level as governments consider how they can help out. Not doing so could mean facing a population unable to take care of itself in the future, which could put undue strain on programs like Medicaid, food assistance programs and other support services.

“We need to have some sort of mechanism to encourage people to start saving,” said John Scott, director of the retirement savings program at Pew. “Policy nudges can make a difference.”

The U.S. government has put several policies in place recently to try to get Americans to save more. They include the Pension Protection Act of 2006, which enabled automatic contributions to a 401(k) plan, instead of contributions that an employee had to opt into. President Barack Obama also recently created something called myRA, which allows some people who don’t have access to a retirement plan to save.

Lawmakers in several states are considering retirement savings plans for those who don’t have access. Illinois, for one, created a state-run retirement savings program for certain employees without workplace access; it will start enrolling workers in 2017. Washington state last year created a marketplace in which small employers and the self-employed can shop for retirement plans.


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