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A new report warns that Americans on the whole have saved alarmingly little for retirement. In fact, at the bottom end of the pay scale, it finds more than three-quarters are at risk of running out of money. With low wages and few if any benefits, many say they can barely get by, let alone save for the future. A small program in Appalachia is trying to change this for one group of workers: childcare providers.
NPR's Jennifer Ludden has the story.
UNIDENTIFIED CHILDREN: (Singing) Ring around the rosy, pocket full of posies...
JENNIFER LUDDEN, BYLINE: Anita Wallace loves running a daycare at her home in rural Athens County, Ohio. The schedule is far more family-friendly than when she logged 60 hours a week as a manager at Walmart. And she adores the children.
ANITA WALLACE: Do-do-do-do-do-do.
WALLACE: There's a giggle.
LUDDEN: The pay is about $27,000 year. But Wallace and her husband still have three of their own kids to raise.
WALLACE: They're very expensive.
LUDDEN: And as an in-home childcare provider, Wallace is self-employed, no company 401(k). She gets lots of tax deductions and she's grateful. But it means she's only paying Social Security on a measly $5,000 of income, so will have only that to draw from in retirement. She knows she'll need more.
WALLACE: But when you're self-employed it's hard to get into certain retirement funds, or to think about it and plan for it.
LUDDEN: She's set aside some in a savings account, and hides some in the sock. But it hasn't amounted to much. Then the Appalachian Savings Project made an offer. If Wallace saved up $600 in a year in U.S. savings bonds, they'd match half of that.
WALLACE: I thought it was great because it's something that if I don't have a lot of money one month to put in, I don't have to worry about it. $25 gets me in the door.
DIANE BROWNING: The reality is that more and more people are getting jobs without any benefits, and our public policy hasn't adapted.
LUDDEN: Diane Browning runs the savings project for WISER, the Women's Institute for a Secure Retirement. The idea is to take the place of a company retirement plan for those who don't have one. The program uses private money, but it's modeled on a little-known federal tax credit. Browning hopes to show that expanding that credit could help ease a retirement crisis.
BROWNING: We put the match directly into their savings account. So it isn't used for consumption. It's used for long-term investment.
LUDDEN: In return, participants last year also had to attend four workshops on financial education. Along with how-tos on Social Security and Medicare, it taught women that, research shows, they're prone to put their kids' needs ahead of their own.
JUANITA MCLEAD: Even now, I don't save as much as I could because I still feel like I have to help my kids.
LUDDEN: Half an hour away, Juanita McLead has run a childcare center in her basement for three decades. She's 60, but didn't start saving for retirement until after her divorce seven years ago.
MCLEAD: And my youngest son, he still has $30,000 in school loans, and I help him pay those every month. But I guess I'm thinking that maybe, you know, my kids will be there to help me.
LUDDEN: McLead signed on to the savings scheme and says it's motivated her to do more. But overall, the project has been rough going. Women complained they didn't have time to attend financial ed classes, so this year they're voluntary. And even though this tiny program is giving away money, it's been surprisingly hard to find takers. Childcare workers say they just have nothing to spare.
MAUREEN BOGGS: We need more people to realize you take care of yourself because nobody else is going to.
LUDDEN: Maureen Boggs is with the Corporation for Ohio Appalachian Development, which is recruiting women for the savings project. Boggs says she can relate. She was a childcare worker for 15 years and didn't save either. But with working-class wages stagnant - and many living longer than ever - she says the stakes are high.
BOGGS: Look how many people in the stores in our area, how many clerks are at those cash registers that are in their 80s? They're not able to be at home. And they look awfully tired.
LUDDEN: To start, Boggs says the amount people set aside is not as important as the habit of doing it. No matter how low their wages, she wants women to realize they can save. And then save more. Jennifer Ludden, NPR News.