Retirement Security

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The Labor Center conducts research on workers’ retirement prospects in the context of threats to Social Security, the decline of secure workplace pensions, and the shift to individual investment accounts like 401(k)s. We also assess state policies and proposals that aim to improve retirement security in California and nationally.

National- and state-level research on the crisis in retirement security.

Issues in public pension systems in California and other states.

Research & Publications

Nari Rhee

Public Pensions Support Race, Class, and Gender Equity in California

This report finds that public pensions play an outsized role in the retirement security of every major demographic group in California, with the strongest impact on women and people of color. It is also a powerful tool for reducing wealth inequality. As private pension coverage declines, public pensions remain a critical bulwark of middle-class retirement security alongside Social Security, particularly for marginalized communities who have been historically shut out of other wealth-building opportunities.

Nari Rhee

Closing the Gap: The Role of Public Pensions in Reducing Retirement Inequality

This study analyzes the impact of defined benefit pensions, especially public pensions, on retirement income security and wealth distribution by race, gender, and educational attainment in the U.S. It serves as a companion report to Closing the Gap fact sheets, which are designed to inform the public about the social equity impact of pensions in each state and the District of Columbia.

Nari Rhee

Marin Public Pension Series – Brief #3: How public pensions support race and gender equity

This brief analyzes the impact of public sector employment and defined-benefit pensions on race and gender equity in retirement income security in Marin County and California. Public pensions play an outsized role in the retirement security of every racial group, particularly in Black and Latino communities, and pension income provides a critical buffer against economic hardship in old age for all groups, especially women, Black and Latino Californians, and seniors without college degrees.

Press Coverage


The next big thing in retirement benefits might be the oldest: a traditional pension

A recent report by the National Institute on Retirement Security and the UC Berkeley Labor Center, for example, found that defined-benefit pensions reduce retiree poverty and near-poverty across race, sex, and educational attainment, with the largest improvement provided to Black and Latino retirees, and retirees without four-year college degrees.


Episode 58: Inequities in Retirement: SECURE 2.0 and More with Dr. Nari Rhee

In this conversation, which focuses on labor and retirement issues, Dr. Rhee emphasizes the challenges faced by low and middle-income workers in the U.S. retirement system, particularly in the private sector. The discussion touches on topics such as the inadequacy of Social Security for low-wage workers, barriers in defined contribution plans, and the impact of job characteristics on retirement benefits.


7 Ideas to Reduce the Racial Retirement Gap

The government uses tax breaks to encourage saving, with bigger deductions for bigger contributions (up to caps set by the IRS). That steers the biggest benefit to higher earners who can most afford to save, Rhee says. “We need to restructure the subsidies so that more of the tax benefits go towards low-income households that actually need the help.”

Program Contact

Nari Rhee

Director, Retirement Security Program