Wharton Pension Research Council Working Papers

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Working Paper

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Oregon recently launched an automatic-enrollment retirement savings program for private sector workers who lack 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). We find that younger employees and employees in larger firms are less likely to opt out, but that 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.” At the end of April 2020, 67,731 accounts had positive account balances, holding $51.1 million in total assets. The average balance is $754, but there is considerable dispersion, with younger workers accumulating the fewest assets due to higher rates of 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. Nevertheless, there are significant constraints to the savings that auto-enrollment savings plans can achieve when provided to workers in industries and firms with low wages, volatile wages, and high turnover. Our evidence suggests that employees who are opting out of OregonSaves are often doing so for rational reasons.


Retirement, pension, government retirement plan, workplace retirement plan, saving for retirement, low-paid employees

Working Paper Number


Copyright/Permission Statement

The findings and conclusions are solely those of the authors and do not represent the views of SSA, any agency of the Federal Government, the MRRC, OregonSaves, or any other institutions with which the authors are affiliated. ©2021 Chalmers, Mitchell, Reuter, and Zhong.


This research was supported by a grant from the US Social Security Administration (SSA) to the Michigan Retirement Research Center (MRRC) as part of the Retirement Research Consortium (RRC). Support was also provided by the Pension Research Council/Boettner Center of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania; the Pew Foundation; the AARP; and the Quartet program at the University of Pennsylvania. We would like to thank Jeffrey Brown, Mark Iwry, David John, James Poterba, Geoffrey Sanzenbacher, and seminar participants at Brandeis, Rutgers, University of Arizona, University of Illinois, the 21th Social Security Administration Retirement and Disability Research Consortium Annual Meeting, and the NBER Conference on Incentives and Limitations of Employment Policies on Retirement Transitions, for their helpful comments. We thank many individuals from the OregonSaves program for numerous discussions and insights into the OregonSaves program, and Yong Yu as well as Wenliang Hou for excellent research assistance.

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Date Posted: 23 July 2020