Kim Clark from Money Magazine interviewed me for her article, "How to Solve America's Retirement Crisis." We discussed how America’s current retirement system is failing, evidenced by declining coverage rates and traditional pension plans, as well as the high fees associated with 401(k)-type plans.

Fortunately there’s a lot we can do about this, both as individual savers and through government policy. In the article, I go into specifics, but for the long-term, we need Guaranteed Retirement Accounts to ensure retirement security across the board.

On Wednesday, November 18, 2015, I joined the Economists for Peace and Security's Symposium on Inequality, Austerity, Jobs, and Growth. The symposium featured a keynote address by Sarah Bloom Raskin from the Treasury Department.

My presentation was part of the first panel, "Jobs, Growth, Wages, and Inequality: What's the Agenda?," along with Allen Sinai (Decision Economics), Stephen Rose (Georgetown), and Heather Boushey (Washington Center for Equitable Growth and a New School Economics PhD). The two other panels were on austerity and growth, and economics and global security, and will include Stephanie Kelton (Senate Budget Committee), Mike Konczal (Roosevelt Institute), and Josh Bivens (EPI), among many others.

Economic growth can be a rising tide to lift all boats, so we are told. Advocates for cutting Social Security benefits by raising the retirement age imply that economic growth will create jobs for older workers left to work longer. But the data debunks this myth: America’s fastest growing cities have the highest rates of unemployment for older workers. Tweet: America’s fastest growing cities have the highest rates of unemployment for older workers @tghilarducci #JobsReport

chartNationally, this morning’s job report from the Department of Labor reported an October unemployment rate of 3.5% for older workers (aged 55-64). But in the 10 cities with the highest gross metropolitan product (GMP) growth in 2014, the numbers are worse, with 5.6% of older workers unable to find jobs, as compared to a metropolitan average of 4.0%.

Economic growth is not a quick solution to the difficulties faced by older workers who can’t afford to retire. Why? The factors that drive economic growth – a booming tech and finance sector, for example - don’t necessarily produce jobs for older workers. In fact, industry specialization - a key driver of growth - could explain why older workers struggle in booming cities.

The 10 cities with the highest growth in output, over 5.5%, have a higher demand for technology jobs and significantly higher demand for finance, insurance and real estate jobs than the national average. For example, Austin, Texas, and San Jose, California, are home to expanding technology sectors, but recorded unemployment rates for older workers of over 12%. If high growth becomes dependent on jobs requiring knowledge of cutting-edge software at a time when firms are less willing to train workers, older workers will continue to be at a disadvantage in the labor market.

Instead of raising the retirement age, consigning older workers to an unfriendly labor market and increasing risk of old-age poverty, Americans need Guaranteed Retirement Accounts (GRAs), a reliable and effective method to save for retirement.

In “What Happens When Low-Wage Workers are Given a Stake in Their Own Company,” I write about Texas grocery chain HEB’s recent announcement that it will give 15% of the company to its 55,000 employees.

HEB workers who meet a certain tenure threshold will get an equity stake valued at 3% of their salary and an additional $100 in stock per year going forward.

HEB’s move is not without support. Economists on both the left and right advance the idea of efficiency wage theory, or employers offering compensation above market rate to attract talent and reduce turnover. Social theorists have long discussed how worker ownership gives workers a stake in the success of their company. John Stuart Mill advocated industrial cooperatives, and Robert Owen experimented with utopian communities during the industrial revolution. More recently, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has proposed a tax break that would encourage companies to share profits with their workers.

But HEB’s decision is best viewed in the context of recent developments in the labor market. The unemployment rate is finally approaching its pre-crisis level, and activists are becoming increasingly vocal about low pay and poor working conditions. If this is what workers get when the unemployment rate is 5%, what might happen if it falls even further?

The AtlanticIn “How to Help the Middle Class Retire Comfortably at No Extra Cost,” I delve into the federal government’s main tool for encouraging retirement savings: tax expenditures. At $120 billion per year, tax breaks for retirement savings represent the second largest federal tax expenditure, just below health insurance and above mortgage interest and charitable giving.

Unfortunately, this money is not spent equitably or effectively. The majority of it accrues to the top 20% of earners, who are more likely to have employer-sponsored retirement savings accounts and have higher taxes to avoid. Recent research shows these tax breaks aren’t having their intended effect. High-earners who benefit from them would be saving anyway, and just shift their money to retirement accounts to lower their tax rates.

I think this money could be better spent. Instead of giving most of the $120 billion to wealthy households to encourage saving they would have done anyway, we should divvy it up equally to support everyone’s need to save for retirement. This would amount to about $800 per worker per year, which would give workers around $100,000 in savings by the time they retire.

While we still need a comprehensive solution to the retirement crisis in the form of Guaranteed Retirement Accounts, reforming inefficient and ineffective tax breaks for retirement savings is a good start. It represents a huge increase for the roughly half of American households who have no retirement savings whatsoever.

On October 30, 2015, the Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis (SCEPA) co-hosted a conference with the Center for American Progress on How Tax Reform Can Address the Incoming Retirement Crisis. We discussed the erosion of American's retirement security and how the tax code can be used to encourage retirement savings.

Retirement tax expenditures are the second largest federal tax expenditure, costing roughly $100 billion per year and growing. They are ineffective and regressive. Rather than encourage savings, they incentivize the well-off to shift their savings to tax-exempt accounts. The top 20% of earners reap 60% of the benefits of these expenditures, while the bottom 40% of earners see only 3%.

In light of the crisis in retirement savings--one quarter of workers aged 50-64 have no retirement savings whatsoever--we believe this money could be put to better use. If it were converted to a credit and divided evenly among the population, it could provide over $600 per year to Guaranteed Retirement Accounts. Add to that state retirement tax expenditures, and you can make an impact in the retirement security of low-income and middle-class Americans.

The AtlanticDemocrats, Hillary Clinton included, often state they are committed to ensuring Social Security will continue to support its most vulnerable recipients. In fact, this notion is the basis of a current Republican plan currently. Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, proposed a plan to reduce benefits for the wealthiest 70% of recipients, purportedly to ensure that benefits remain unchanged for the poorest 30%. In my Atlantic article, “Why It's Misleading to Swear to Protect the Poor's Social Security Benefits” I explain why this would damage political support for the program and could result in its demise. Put simply, when a majority of Americans find they are paying the same for a program that they will get less from, they will be increasingly disinclined to support it.

A similar analysis can be applied to the proposal to raise the salary cap for contributions to Social Security. As it stands, Social Security taxes are only drawn from the first $118,500 of income. Raising that cap will force high earners to pay more without getting any additional benefits. This also could damage the program’s political support. Nonetheless, raising the salary cap is a good way to improve the solvency of the system. It should be part of a comprehensive approach to strengthening and expanding Social Security for everyone.