Auto-Enrollment Retirement Plans in OregonSaves

Published: 2021


Oregon recently launched an automatic-enrollment retirement savings program for private sector workers lacking access to other workplace retirement plans. We analyze participation choices, account balances, and inflow/outflow data using administrative records between August 2018 and April 2020. Within the small- to mid-sized firms served by OregonSaves, estimated average after-tax earnings are low ($2,365 per month) and turnover rates are high (38.2% per year). Younger employees and employees in larger firms have been less likely to opt out of the OregonSaves program, but participation rates fall over time. The most common reason given for opting out is “I can’t afford to save at this time,” but the second most common is “I have my own retirement plan.” As of April 2020, 67,731 accounts had positive account balances, holding $51.1 million in total assets. The average balance was $754, but with considerable dispersion; younger workers accumulated the fewest assets due to higher job turnover. Overall, we conclude that OregonSaves has meaningfully increased employee savings by reducing search costs. The 34.3% of workers with positive account balances in April 2020 is comparable to the marginal increase in participation at larger firms in the private sector. Employees opting out of OregonSaves are often doing so for rational reasons.

Key Findings

    • Launched in 2017, OregonSaves is the first state-sponsored retirement plan. It provides an automatic-enrollment retirement savings program for private-sector employees who typically work in low-wage, high turnover industries.
    • OregonSaves had accumulated $118.9 million by the end of June 2021.
    • About half of employees eligible for OregonSaves have participated in the program.
    • The most common reason for opting out is that employees cannot afford to save.


Chalmers, John, Olivia S. Mitchell, Jonathan Reuter, and Mingli Zhong. 2021. “Auto-Enrollment Retirement Plans in OregonSaves.” Ann Arbor, MI. University of Michigan and Disability Retirement Research Center (MRDRC) Working Paper; MRDRC WP 2021-425.