SANTA FE, N.M. — New Mexico lawmakers have begun studying how to provide more private-sector workers with access to retirement programs.
National experts on efforts to increase automated access to retirement investment plans briefed members New Mexico’s legislative committee overseeing pensions and state investments on Monday. The AARP Public Policy Institute estimated that 64 percent of private sector employees in New Mexico have no access to an employer-sponsored retirement plan — the highest rate in the country. Seven states are moving ahead with state-run plans to increase access with encouragement from the federal government.
Gerri Madrid-Davis, director of financial security and consumer affairs at the AARP, told lawmakers that New Mexico accentuates the broader trend in which lower-wage workers at smaller businesses are the least likely to have access to an employer-sponsored savings plan or features such as automatic retirement withdrawals from paychecks that are crucial to successful saving.
“Individuals who have access to a way to save through an employer-sponsored retirement plan, we know are 15 times more likely to save for retirement than those folks that don’t have a plan,” she said.
So far, New Mexico has stayed largely on the sidelines as some two dozen states consider legislation or commission feasibility studies on possible reforms.
Investments and Pensions Oversight Committee Chairman George Munoz says it is time for legislators to look beyond the retirement security of state employees to the needs of the general public, as the federal social security system comes under increasing strain. He said a subcommittee would likely be formed to continue Monday’s policy discussion.
Five states including Maryland and Illinois have required many small businesses to offer retirement investment plans. Those so-called secure choice policies provide automatic enrollment, with an opt-out.
Meanwhile, state-run marketplaces have been approved in New Jersey and Washington that help small companies that want to set up plans without an obligation.
Opponents of state-run plans say they will push out private competition, while advocates say inaction will lead to a growing population of financially vulnerable people that strains programs such as Medicaid, food assistance programs and other support services.
Outside the meeting, Rep. Larry Larranaga, R-Albuquerque, said state government inevitably picks up part of the tab for financially stranded private-sector retirees.
“There is not a certainty that they would have a pension unless we start looking at what do we do,” he said. “Some of them will wind up in some kind of safety net of the state.”