Known as the Hawaii Retirement Savings Program, Senate Bill 1374 would establish for Hawaii’s working have-nots who lack access to an employer-provided defined contribution plan like a 401k, a way to save for their retirement through the convenience of payroll deduction.

There is motive enough in principle for legislators to give the future financial well being of Hawaii’s working men and women their fullest attention. Over 215,000 employees in the private sector in Hawaii, almost a third of the total workforce in the state, are currently left to fend for themselves when it comes to saving for their retirement. Looming is the fear that if more isn’t done to help workers save, many will be forced to rely on government handouts in their old age for their health and welfare.

One of the unavoidable conclusions of passing the half-century mark is that what seemed incredible at the start is in fact all too achievable. Being frightfully old standing by with one’s beggar’s bowl is the probable image lawmakers conjured up in writing their bills.

And who can blame them? Three quarters of Hawaii’s population live paycheck to paycheck. Multiple generations live under the same roof to make ends meet. If it weren’t for the good weather, plenty of family and friends to fall back on, an overabundance of food, the eventual transfer of intergenerational wealth, and a generous social safety net to complete the picture, the vast majority of us would be up the creek without a paddle.

Forgive me for showing more pity than astonishment at this sad state of affairs. I’m all for encouraging workers to save for retirement. I wore out my jaw evangelizing just that as an elected union officer for the Association of Flight Attendants, United Airlines, Honolulu Council 14, and became a very great bore on the subject, as my many kindhearted co-workers will attest. At times it was hard not to labor under a discouraging sense of “Oh, what’s the use?”

Tedious Excuses

Based upon my experience, the solution lies not so much in adding another retirement savings plan to the plethora of plans already out there. The answer is in motivating workers to contribute more to the ones we already have in place.

Since 1980, we have had a front-row seat to one of the biggest bull runs in stock market history. If today’s retiree hadn’t dithered, that person would be sitting on millions in common stock equity, not to mention receiving hundreds of thousands in annual dividends.

The obvious truth is that Americans are not very good at saving for a rainy day, much less very well equipped for perfecting the process.

Managing for financial success is like having a second job. It’s hardly encouraging though, that when times are prosperous, our personal savings rate as a share of disposable income goes down. Or that credit card debt in America averages a thumping $5,300 per person.

It goes without saying that final legislation should include among other things a massive educational push to convince people to stop carrying a month-to-month balance on their credit cards at an APR of 16 percent-plus, before starting to save in a retirement plan.

Pardon me for being so downright, but I find the usual excuses tedious. Millennials spend more on coffee in a year than they invest in their IRAs.

We are living in a time of unparalleled prosperity. Unemployment is at a record low, inflation is minuscule, wages are rising, and our economy is thriving. Conditions are perfect for investing. Policymakers are doing everything possible to get you to save.

If you are young, my advice to you is to quit grumbling about your domestic difficulties, budget harder, choose a plan and get started. If I’m any prophet, in 30 years you’ll be comfortably retired, and have all the time in the world to hold forth on topics like this.

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