Thanks to the determination of millions of hardworking Americans, our economy has come a long way since the financial crisis seven years ago. Our businesses have created more than 12.8 million new jobs over 64 straight months — the longest streak on record. Our high school graduation rate is at an all-time high. More Americans are finishing college than ever before. And more than 16 million additional Americans have health care — and the uninsured rate is the lowest on record.
That’s real progress. But we need to do more to help ensure that our recovery reaches every American. And that means putting retirement within reach for more Americans.
A secure retirement is a key part of what I call “ middle-class economics” — the idea that we do best when all of us get a fair shot and each of us plays by the same set of rules. It’s at the heart of the choice we face today: Will we accept an economy where only a few of us do extremely well? Or will we work toward an America that says we’re all in this together, and hard work should be rewarded?
To me, the answer is clear. We need to uphold the basic tenet that says, in America, a lifetime of hard work should be rewarded with a retirement that is secure and dignified.
Earlier this year, I visited the AARP headquarters in Washington to announce a new proposal that will go a long way toward protecting people’s retirement savings: cracking down on conflicts of interest in retirement advice. This is a serious problem — bad financial advice resulting from conflicts of interest costs American families about $17 billion every year.
If you’re doing the right thing and putting away money for retirement, you should be rewarded, not taken advantage of. So we’re putting in place rules of the road for financial advisers guided by a simple, commonsense principle — they have to put your best interest ahead of their own profits.
Protecting Americans’ retirement savings is crucial, but at a time when one-third of the workforce lacks access to a retirement plan at work, it’s not enough. We’ve got to do more to empower hardworking Americans so they can save for their families’ future.
That’s what we’ll do today at the White House Conference on Aging. In addition to other concrete steps to help hardworking Americans, I’ll announce that the Department of Labor will propose rules this year to clarify the path forward for state savings initiatives passed by some states and under consideration in many more. Some states are proposing an idea similar to what I proposed in my budget — every employer over a certain size would be required to automatically enroll workers in an IRA if it doesn't already offer a retirement plan — and this rule would assist these efforts.
So we’re taking on this problem from two directions — empowering more Americans to save and protecting those who already are. It’s important we get this right. Because a secure retirement is a critical component of what it means to be middle class in our country.
This is about more than bank accounts or bottom lines. It’s about the values that make America great — honesty, fair play, dignity. And it’s about our commitment to each other and respecting everyone’s value, no matter how young or old you are. That’s how we’ll build a better future for our parents, our families, ourselves — and our country.
Barack Obama is the 44th president of the United States.
Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images
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