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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

If you're happy with your retirement plan, there's a very good chance you're a federal employee. Now there's a bipartisan proposal to extend that excellent service to the people who need it most — middle- and low-income households who don't have any retirement savings at all.

Why it matters: The federal government currently spends about $250 billion per year on tax incentives for richer Americans to pay into 401(k) accounts and IRAs. The new proposal, from the Economic Innovation Group think tank, would add about $50 billion more to help most of the bottom 50% of the population.

How it works: Some six million federal employees, including members of Congress, pay into the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) — the largest defined-contribution pension plan in the world.

  • The TSP is a huge success, boasting an incredibly low expense ratio of about 0.04% as well as a 95% participation rate for employees with a high school degree or less.
  • The scheme proves, says EIG CEO John Lettieri, that "if you give low-income workers access to a well-designed retirement plan, they will participate. If we didn’t have TSP, we couldn’t say that."

The public policy organization's new proposal, from right-wing economist Kevin Hassett and left-wing economist Teresa Ghilarducci, would effectively give all low-income Americans the same retirement-savings opportunities that are currently extended to federal employees.

  • The savings plan would be portable, no matter who your employer was — or even whether you're employed at all. And it would come with a government match to incentivize participation.

What they're saying: "If a plan like TSP, combined with government matches, were available to everyone," write Hassett and Ghilarducci, "then households at the middle and the low end of the income and wealth distribution would have significantly more financial wealth."

  • "So long as the private return on capital is higher than the Treasury Department’s borrowing cost, the policy is a positive for American well-being as a whole, and promises significant positive revenue feedback in the future."

Our thought bubble, from Axios' Hans Nichols: While the potential constituency for this proposal is massive, the interest group to get it across the line doesn't seem obvious.

The bottom line: The average household in the poorest 25 percent of the wealth distribution currently has $1,380 of total wealth. Hassett and Ghilarducci estimate that after 40 years of participating in this scheme, that number would rise to between $138,000 and $610,000.

Go deeper

Dion Rabouin, author of Markets
Mar 24, 2021 - Economy & Business

Most investors now say the stock market is "rigged"

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Nearly 50% of Americans now say the stock market is "rigged against individual investors," a new survey from Bankrate.com and YouGov shows — and surprisingly a solid majority of those investing in the stock market (56%) believe the market is rigged as well.

Why it matters: Underlying the results is "widening wealth inequality where young people in particular just may not have a sense of hope or fairness in the markets," Greg McBride, Bankrate.com's chief financial analyst, told Axios.

Scoop: U.S. begins denying Afghan immigrants

Afghan refugees on a bus bound for temporary housing after arriving in Greece. Photo: Byron Smith/Getty Images

The Biden administration has begun issuing denials to Afghans seeking to emigrate to the United States through the humanitarian parole process, after a system that typically processes 2,000 applications annually has been flooded with more than 30,000.

Why it matters: Afghans face steeper odds and longer processes for escaping to the U.S., despite the earlier sweeping efforts by the Biden administration to assist its allies. Immigration lawyers and advocacy groups say the government has set untenable barriers to a safe haven in the U.S.

54 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Dems invoke Robert Byrd to sell Manchin on Senate rules changes

Photo illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios. Photos: Diana Walker, Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

A small group of Senate Democrats is privately invoking the legacy of late West Virginia Sen. Robert Byrd in an effort to sway Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) to support their plans to change the chamber's rules, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: Manchin — who holds Byrd's Senate seat — has often referenced his predecessor's strong moral conviction and insistence on preserving the Senate as an institution, as justification for some of his tough positions.