Do Low-Income Workers Benefit From 401(k) Plans?

Source: Eric Toder and Karen E. Smith, Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, IB#11-15, December 2011

From the abstract:
401(k) plans – the main retirement savings vehicle for millions of workers – allow participants to save on a tax-deferred basis. This tax incentive is more valuable to workers in high-income families than workers in low-income families because they face higher marginal income tax rates. Not surprisingly, then, studies of the distributional effects of 401(k)s find that they mainly benefit high-income workers. However, these studies assume that employer contributions to 401(k)s do not affect the total compensation that each worker receives – that is, every worker “pays for” employer contributions in the form of lower wages. This brief challenges this assumption, testing whether employer contributions may actually increase total compensation for low-income workers, who may be more reluctant than high-income workers to accept wage reductions in exchange for retirement saving contributions.
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