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Marianne Williamson: The Retirement Survey

Yahoo Finance and the Funding our Future campaign (an alliance of organizations dedicated to making a secure retirement possible for all Americans) teamed up to get more details on where the 2020 candidates for president stand on retirement. According to a recent Gallup poll, “Not having enough money for retirement” is a top financial worry among Americans yet the issue has received minimal attention thus far on the campaign trail. During the September debate, the words “Social Security” or “Retirement” weren’t uttered, according to ABC’s transcript.

The following are the responses from author Marianne Williamson.

Democratic presidential candidate and author Marianne Williamson speaks at the One Iowa and GLAAD LGBTQ Presidential Forum in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, September 20, 2019. REUTERS/Scott Morgan
Democratic presidential candidate and author Marianne Williamson. REUTERS/Scott Morgan

Will you address the coming insolvency of Social Security’s Old-Age and Survivors Insurance trust fund in your first term as president? If so, what specific policies will you advance?

Yes, strengthening the solvency of Social Security is a top priority and I will address it in my first term.

We must recognize that the current economic system works well for the top 10% but not really for the rest of the people. Three groups that are too often disregarded in our society are children (who are not yet working), women (whose labor is often undervalued), and seniors (whose working years are largely or entirely behind them).

I want to shift our thinking and our priorities back to how our country was originally designed. Our Constitution intended for all to be respected and encouraged to develop their potential and pursue their dreams. Our children are our future, and we should give each one of them quality nutrition, loving care, and an excellent education so they can thrive when they mature. Women are often underpaid for the same work as men, and often unpaid for their work raising children and taking care of family members. Lower wages and time out of the workforce to care for family (average 9 years) means lower income to live on, less savings, and lower Social Security payments when they retire. Moreover, women generally live longer than men, so they are living longer on less money and often alone which results in living in poverty by age 80-85. This particularly affects many women who are single, divorced and widowed who become poor for the first time in their lives when their health is most vulnerable and costly.

Too many women seniors are struggling financially. Consider this from a Fidelity report:

  • Women age 65 or older have an average annual Social Security income of $12,587, compared with $16,590 for men.

  • Almost 49% of elderly unmarried women rely on Social Security benefits for 90% or more of their income. In contrast, Social Security benefits provide only 35% of the income of unmarried elderly men, and only 30% of the income of elderly couples.

To strengthen economic security and well-being for seniors including women, I will take the following actions:

  • Work to close the gender pay gap.

  • Support paid Family and Medical Leave through the FAMILY Act.

  • Expand benefits in both Social Security and Medicare, including a bump up in Social Security over age 80 which would help keep many women & men out of severe poverty in old age.

  • Allow part-time workers to access retirement plans at the workplace. (Women are twice as likely to work part-time.)

  • Provide access for all Americans to retirement savings plans. (Half the workforce does not have access.)

  • Restore myRA.

  • Support the Savers Tax Credit, a bipartisan proposal in the U.S. Senate which allows a credit for saving in a tax-qualified retirement plan - free money and enormously helpful to workers

  • Pass a revised Elder Justice Act with funding to build prevention programs against financial exploitation and other forms of elder abuse. (Nearly 20% of all older adults will suffer some type of abuse in their lifetime. Lives are upended with no time to recover. There was an Elder Justice Act of 2009, part of the ACA, but no reauthorization and no money.)

  • Spearhead partnerships with medical and financial services industries to build protections and interventions to sustain healthy long lives with financial security.

  • Provide financial education in every community – through the library system-- to help people understand the complicated decisions around enrolling in Social Security and Medicare, so they can avoid incurring lifelong penalties and running out of money in old age.

To strengthen the Social Security trust fund, I will repeal the 2016 tax cuts where 83 cents on every $1 cut when to the top 1% and redirect those funds to Social Security. I will also Scrap the Cap on the Social Security payroll tax which is now capped at $132,900, so that earnings over that amount will be included in the payroll tax.

Should every person who pays into Social Security be eligible for full benefits, regardless of their socioeconomic status? In other words, will your plan include means testing?
• Will your plan include raising the retirement age or other benefit reductions?

Yes, every person who pays into Social Security should be eligible for full benefits. I oppose means testing which undermines support for Social Security among more wealthy citizens. I will not raise the retirement age or reduce benefits.

Should Social Security be funded primarily through payroll taxes, as it is currently, or should other revenue be used to shore up the program’s funding? If so, what revenue source(s) do you propose using?

Yes, Social Security should continue to be funded through payroll taxes, although I would eliminate the cap on earnings over $132,900.

Should Social Security benefits be increased for any beneficiaries? If so, how do you propose increasing them, and how will your plan pay for any increase in benefits?

Yes, benefits should be increased. I support the Social Security Expansion Act, along with Senators Sanders, Booker, Harris and others. Funds needed beyond Scrapping the Cap could be covered by a wealth tax of 2% on assets above $50 million and 3% on assets above 1 billion.

Current legislation in Congress, the SECURE Act, has bipartisan support. Its primary pillars are expanding access to workplace retirement savings plans, increasing retirement income options, and enabling people to contribute to and retain their funds in IRAs and 401(k)s at later ages. Do you support the legislation? Why? Are there certain aspects you oppose? Why?

Yes, I support the SECURE Act (Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement Act). The purpose of the bill is to boost retirement savings by increasing access to tax-advantaged accounts and prevent seniors from outliving their assets. The aspects I especially like are:

  • Raising RMDs from age 70 ½ to 72 years old, allowing retirement funds to grow an extra 1 ½ years before tapping into them.

  • Remove age restrictions on IRA contributions.

  • Guarantee 401(k) plan eligibility for part-time employees who have worked at least 500 hours per year for at least three consecutive years.

  • Allow a penalty-free withdrawal of $5,000 per spouse with the arrival of a new baby or adoption.

  • Three provisions to help more small businesses offer retirement plans for their employees.

Should every worker have access to a workplace retirement savings account?
a) If so, how would you make that happen?
b) If not, why not?
c) Many states are establishing plans of their own. Do you support these plans and what role do you envision them playing in the broader system?

Yes, every worker should have access to a workplace retirement savings account.

I would support enactment of the SECURE Act as discussed in the question above.

I would support new tax incentives to encourage employers to adopt automatic enrollment in retirement savings programs and raise their employees’ contributions over time.

I would establish a national minimum-coverage standard on retirement plans to replace the patchwork of state-by-state regulations. Under my plan, employers with 50 or more employees that do not offer a retirement plan meeting certain minimal thresholds would be required to automatically enroll employees into an employer plan or myRA (when reinstated). In this way, more workers could access workplace retirement savings plans without overburdening employers.

I would consider establishing a Small Employer Retirement Plan to make it easier for employers with under 500 employees to offer a retirement plan to workers.

Every employer must pay payroll tax. We could simply require the employer also to report on what they’re doing for voluntary contributions to a retirement plan to track implementation and progress.

The gig economy has upended traditional retirement models, and those workers face some of the greatest barriers when it comes to saving for retirement. How would you improve the ability of gig workers to save for retirement?

I would vigorously pursue the misclassification of workers as consultants when they are really employees. That way more people would be classified as employees and qualify for benefits.

I would support the SECURE Act which guarantees 401(k) plan eligibility for part-time employees who have worked at least 500 hours per year for at least three consecutive years.

I would restart the myRA program (which has been ended and turned over to a private company) and expand it to provide a base of coverage for workers who are least likely to be offered a retirement savings plan, namely gig workers, part-timers, seasonal and low-income employees.

Do you support making it easier for workers to move their retirement benefits from one employer to another, such as a portable benefits model? How would you achieve that?

Yes, workers should be able to move their retirement benefits from one employer to another.

401k plans are already portable. There are a variety of proposals for making more benefits portable, such as the “Portable Non-employer Retirement Benefits” proposal released by the Aspen Institute this February. I would explore these possibilities.

How would you propose improving retirement security for low-income Americans, many of whom cannot afford to put away savings?

In addition to the actions mentioned above, I support the following:

  • A Universal Savings Program. Under my plan, each child will receive a gift from the federal government deposited in a fund created at birth. Family and friends can add to that fund as the child grows, with the government matching those contributions on a sliding scale. (Less wealthy families will get 100% match and more wealthy families a 10% match.) Eventually the child grows up and can use those funds for wealth-enhancing purposes such as education, training, house down payment, or to start a business.

  • Immediate Cash Relief via Universal Basic Income. Under my plan, the federal government will pay $1,000/month Universal Basic Income to all American adults. This will provide immediate cash relief to those who need it. It will give people a small but reliable stream of income. It will create a floor so no American needs to be hungry. It will also provide a big stimulus to the economy as people spend this money on food, clothes and other essentials.

  • $15/hour minimum wage.

  • Paid Family and Medical Leave.

More Responses

Every active campaign was invited to participate. Several declined or did not respond to repeated requests for comment. Some campaigns opted to respond only to select questions and are not included here.

Michael Bennet

Steve Bullock

John Delaney

Amy Klobuchar

Beto O'Rourke

Joe Sestak

Marianne Williamson

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