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Auto-Enrollment Retirement Plans for the People: Choices and Outcomes in OregonSaves


  • John Chalmers
  • Olivia S. Mitchell
  • Jonathan Reuter
  • Mingli Zhong


Oregon recently launched an automatic-enrollment retirement savings program for private sector workers lacking access to other workplace retirement plans. We analyze participation choices, account balances, and inflow/outflow data using administrative records between August 2018 and April 2020. Within the small to mid-sized firms served by OregonSaves, estimated average after-tax earnings are low ($2,365 per month) and turnover rates are high (38.2% per year). Younger employees and employees in larger firms are less likely to opt out, but participation rates fall over time. The most common reason given for opting out is “I can’t afford to save at this time,” but the second most common is “I have my own retirement plan.” As of April 2020, 67,731 accounts had positive account balances, holding $51.1 million in total assets. The average balance is $754, but with considerable dispersion; younger workers accumulating the fewest assets due to higher job turnover. Overall, we conclude that OregonSaves has meaningfully increased employee savings by reducing search costs. The 34.3% of workers with positive account balances in April 2020 is comparable to the marginal increase in participation at larger firms in the private sector. Employees opting out of OregonSaves are often doing so for rational reasons.

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  • John Chalmers & Olivia S. Mitchell & Jonathan Reuter & Mingli Zhong, 2021. "Auto-Enrollment Retirement Plans for the People: Choices and Outcomes in OregonSaves," NBER Working Papers 28469, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:28469
    Note: AG

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Boisclair, David & Lusardi, Annamaria & Michaud, Pierre-Carl, 2017. "Financial literacy and retirement planning in Canada," Journal of Pension Economics and Finance, Cambridge University Press, vol. 16(3), pages 277-296, July.
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    1. Rachel Scarfe & Daniel Schaefer & Thomas Sulka, 2024. "The Incidence of Workplace Pensions: Evidence from the UK's Automatic Enrollment Mandate," Economics working papers 2024-02, Department of Economics, Johannes Kepler University Linz, Austria.

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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D14 - Microeconomics - - Household Behavior - - - Household Saving; Personal Finance
    • G5 - Financial Economics - - Household Finance
    • J26 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Retirement; Retirement Policies
    • J32 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Wages, Compensation, and Labor Costs - - - Nonwage Labor Costs and Benefits; Retirement Plans; Private Pensions

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