Pew Analysis Shows Access to Workplace Retirement Plans Varies Widely Across States

Pew News ImageWASHINGTON—Wide differences in access to and participation in employer-based retirement plans exist across states, with variations by employer size and industry type as well as by workers’ income, age, education, race and ethnicity, according to a report released today by The Pew Charitable Trusts.

The report, Who’s In, Who’s Out: A Look at Access to Employer-Based Retirement Plans and Participation in the States, examines the rates of access to and participation in plans in all 50 states and assesses the challenges facing workers and employers in ensuring that Americans have sufficient resources to pay for their retirements.

For example, the report found that 61 percent of workers in Wisconsin participate in an employer-based pension or retirement savings plan, compared with 38 percent in Florida. Access and participation is higher in the Midwest, New England, and parts of the Pacific Northwest—and lower in the South and West. The report also finds that among Hispanic workers, access to a plan is around 25 percentage points below that for white non-Hispanic workers. Black and Asian workers also report lower rates of access than white workers.

“Access to workplace retirement plans varies widely across the states,” said John Scott, director of Pew’s retirement savings project. “Recognizing the savings challenge faced by so many Americans, half of the states are looking at their own solutions.”

Overall, Pew’s analysis, based on a pooled version of the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey (CPS), found that 58 percent of private sector workers have access to a plan, while 49 percent participate in one. Pew also found that more than 30 million full-time, full-year, private sector workers ages 18 to 64 lack access to an employer-based retirement plan, whether a traditional pension or a defined contribution plan such as a 401(k).

The report notes the numerous efforts at the state and federal levels to increase retirement savings. Illinois, for instance, adopted the Secure Choice Savings Program in 2015, which will start enrolling certain private sector workers in new payroll-deduction retirement accounts by 2017. In another example, the state of Washington created a marketplace in which small employers and the self-employed can shop for retirement plans. In addition, the federal government has rolled out the “myRA,” a new national savings program that is geared toward low-income savers.

“Workplace retirement savings plans can be a critical piece of the retirement security puzzle,” said Scott. “But for millions of Americans, this piece is missing.”

More detailed information, including state-by-state breakdowns, is available in the report’s online interactive data visualization at

Click here to download the full report.

# # #

The Pew Charitable Trusts is driven by the power of knowledge to solve today’s most challenging problems. Learn more at

Blogger-in-Chief here at RetirementSavvy and author of Sin City Greed, Cream City Hustle and RENDEZVOUS WITH RETIREMENT: A Guide to Getting Fiscally Fit.


  1. I’m curious to see how the myRA does. I think ultimately it’s not so much about the retirement plan itself than it is about the person. If people aren’t motivated to save for retirement they aren’t going to save. I know multiple people who have access to a 401k who haven’t put a dime in it.

    • “I know multiple people who have access to a 401k who haven’t put a dime in it.” Agreed. I don’t believe anyone is under the impression that the myRA alone will raise our dismal savings rate or solve the retirement crisis. However, based on my understanding of the program, I do believe anything that encourages Americans to save more, and provides a low-cost mechanism for doing so, is a step in the right direction.

      Thanks for stopping by, my friend.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *