The Washington Post
By Michelle Singletary
January 29, 2021
The pandemic, which has left millions unemployed, is likely to make the situation worse. When people get back to work, how far behind will they be? If they’re catching up on past-due rent or mortgage payments, they aren’t likely to have the money to save for a future need such as retirement.
Edelman calls his plan Retirement Income Security for Everyone, or RISE.
Under Edelman’s proposal, the Treasury Department would issue RISE savings bonds on behalf of the approximately 4 million children born each year. The bonds would be eligible for redemption by the bondholders in 20 years. Even though returns for investors would be low, Edelman believes there would be demand for the retirement baby bonds.
“There are a great many investors, even wealthy people, who are very risk-averse,” he said. “They routinely place a portion of their investments into cash reserves, into very safe assets such as government securities. So this will be a natural place for them to consider.”
How much each child would eventually receive would depend on an assigned category at birth using the average household income of the baby’s family over the preceding five years. Lower-income children would receive more than children born to wealthier parents. At 70, the beneficiary of the baby bond would begin receiving a monthly income (inflation-adjusted), and payments would continue until the person reaches 100. If a taxpayer dies before age 100, the income they would have received in retirement would fund those who live beyond 100.
The program’s administrative and operational expenses would be funded by the money raised in issuing the bonds and therefore there would be no cost to the government or taxpayers, Edelman said. The money would be managed by an entity established by Congress.
Edelman lays out the proposal and assumptions for the payouts on a dedicated website, at wecanrise.com. Under his projections, the bonds would have a 7.27 percent annual return (minus 0.4 percent for expenses) on a one-time funding of $5,884, on average, for all babies born in the United States. If all went as planned, those born into low-income households would receive more than $35,000 a year (in current dollars). Children born into the wealthiest families would receive about $1,000 a year.
If the average return exceeded expectations, the income would be higher than projected. If the average return was less, then the income would be lower.
There have been several proposals similar to Edelman’s plan to help address income inequality in the United States.
Economists Darrick Hamilton of the New School and William Darity of Duke University have also proposed that the government give a baby bond to every newborn. Under their proposal, the money — ranging from $500 to $50,000, depending on the wealth of the family — would be accessible when the child turned 18 and could be used to help pay for college, for example.
During his presidential bid, Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) had a similar plan to fight poverty with baby bonds.
“It is time to invest in a demonstration and evaluation of this idea,” the Urban Institute said when Booker proposed a bill to create “American opportunity accounts.” White families have 10 times as much wealth as African American families and eight times the wealth of Latino families, according to research by the institute.
RISE is different in two ways from other baby-bond plans: It’s dedicated strictly to retirement income, and it does not require any government or taxpayer funding. Other programs are funded by taxes and government spending, with money used for education, housing and starting businesses.
Edelman’s plan is baby bonds on steroids, thanks to the power of compounding.
“I see firsthand the strife that millions of American families are facing, made far worse by covid, the job losses, the loss of income, the medical expenses, the caregiving challenge,” Edelman said. “It is extraordinarily difficult for people in low-income households to improve their economic lot in life. It’s hard for them to get the education they need. It’s hard for them to get the employment opportunities they need. It’s hard for them to get access to the advice they need. We owe it to each other to improve each other’s position in life.”
Of course, all these plans, including Edelman’s, face ideological and political hurdles. The chief criticism is that any type of baby bond is just another government handout resulting in generations of slothful adults.
“The way the program is designed, it protects against that risk by the simple fact that nobody gets any benefit from this program until you’re 70 years old,” Edelman said of his proposal. “I find it hard to believe that someone is going to be a lazy slob throughout their 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s because they are expecting a check in their 70s.”