Understanding the American worker

Research highlights from our survey of lower-income individuals 401(k) plan participation

In 2021, just before this study was fielded, 25% of working Americans earned $35,000 or less a year.1 Many of these workers are considered “vulnerable,” and they struggle to save for retirement as well as for basic financial goals.


Our survey2 focused on these American workers and our search to understand what motivates those who are saving for the future and the barriers that prevent others from saving. Our goal was to learn about lower-income individuals’ current financial situation and priorities — and to find ways to motivate them toward overall retirement preparedness and financial wellness.


This brief contains the following:


  • 401(k) plan participation rates, motivators and barriers
  • Employer tips to encourage workers to save


Read the full brief

Read our report for more information and a roadmap to promote the financial well-being of lower-income employees, delineating immediate and longer-term recommendations and suggested strategies for implementation by diverse groups of employers.

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1  Jessica Semega and Melissa Kollar, “Income in the United States: 2021,” United States Census Bureau, September 2022.

2 The survey was conducted between April 28 and May 9, 2022. The 22-minute online survey included full-time and part-time workers ages 21 to 58, married or unmarried, who have individual incomes ranging from $18,000 to $40,000 and who have a 401(k) plan offered by their employer. Total number of respondents: 993. Sample sourced from Bank of America Advisory Panel, Ipsos iSay panel and other Ipsos partners.