West Virginia Rural Retirement Project

Background
While the national financial implications of an aging population that is not prepared for retirement are staggering, in rural communities the problem is more pronounced. There is less opportunity in the rural economy for workers to have access to an employer-supported retirement plan. Many people, especially women, are self-employed or work in the informal economy, doing work for cash and barter.

In West Virginia, the second most rural state in the U.S., women have the lowest workforce participation in the country*, compounding the problems during their retirement years. Since 2003, WISER has been experimenting with innovative grassroots efforts to address this issue through its Rural Retirement Project, staffed by Diane L. Browning.

Activities

Over the last nearly two years, WISER's Rural Retirement Project has been conducting the Appalachian Savings Project with self-employed childcare workers in Appalachia Ohio and West Virginia. The project is testing the concept that if two existing financial tools were simplified and strengthened-access to the electronic U.S. Savings Bonds and the Savers' Credit  (Retirement Contributions' Savings Credit)-self-employed workers, as well as employed workers without access to employer benefits, would save more,  and increase their financial security. 

The Appalachian Savings Project began its demonstration and research project with childcare workers in Appalachia Ohio and West Virginia in the fall of 2012. The project group started saving small amounts with auto-debits for U.S. I-Bonds via TreasuryDirect.  This group's savings were matched after a year of participation, simulating an expanded Saver's Credit to measure its effects on savings rates.  Accompanying the program have been quarterly financial workshops tailored to the childcare business, including workshops on preparing for tax filings, Social Security, and a legal seminar on wills, power-of-attorney and related subjects.

WISER has engaged a diverse mix of partners on this project, including the Appalachian Regional Commission, U.S. Treasury's Retail Securities training staff, childcare intermediaries in the project region including the Corporation for Ohio Appalachian Development (COAD) and CHOICES of West Virginia, financial and legal educators, and researchers from the Center for Financial Security's Policy Lab. 

Recently, NPR featured the Appalachian Savings Project on its program, All Things Considered. Listen to the story here.

It is projected that by 2015 one rural worker will be self-employed for every three wage and salary workers.[1]  Since the self-employed do not have access to institutional supports for saving, like an employer's 401(k) or IRA savings plan, there is a great need for models that will facilitate their asset-building so they are prepared for the day they can no longer work.  We believe that focusing on interventions that help build secure savings will strengthen the viability of and retention in these jobs and create a more sustainable economy within the targeted region.  For the childcare sector this is especially important given the increasing need for quality, affordable childcare.  WISER's Appalachian Savings Project has already demonstrated early success, and we are continuing a second year of the project in 2014.

 


 

[1] "Self Employment in Rural America: The New Economic Reality", Stephan J. Goetz, Rural Sociological Society, Volume 2, Issue 3, 2008.


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