City of Boston pilot helps municipal employees build rainy day funds
Mayor Martin J. Walsh today announced the results of the City of Boston's Emergency Savings Fund pilot program, one of the first in the nation to encourage municipal employees to have small sums of money automatically pulled from their paychecks and deposited into savings accounts. The pilot, created by the City's Economic Mobility Lab, comes at a time when tens of millions of American households struggle to cover emergency or unexpected expenses and more than half the nation is unprepared for a financial shock.
"Making sure all families can succeed in Boston is my administration's guiding principle and the mission of the City's Economic Mobility Lab," said Mayor Walsh. "By organizing action around key moments in people's lives -- from early childhood, to a first job, to college and career -- we are ensuring Bostonians' City government is supporting every family during the times that matter most. Emergencies can set families' finances back for months or years, so we are working on ways to help them prepare for these unexpected expenses."
In one unique element of the pilot, Boston Centers for Youth & Families (BCYF) employees were offered a guaranteed $50 incentive, while Boston Public Library employees were entered into a raffle to win a $100 bonus as encouragement to start saving. Participants reported depositing an average of $67 a week into savings, an annual rate of nearly $3,500 per employee.
The small-scale pilot was successful in encouraging municipal employees to have parts of their pay directly deposited into savings accounts. According to a new report supported by JPMorgan Chase, Commonwealth, a Boston-based financial nonprofit, found that the program demonstrated the effectiveness of splitting direct deposits - a passive savings strategy that works with a wide variety of employers and across different pay scales.
The Commonwealth report arrives during America Saves Week, a week-long campaign that encourages local communities to do a 'gut-check' on residents' and workers' finances and saving behaviors. With as many as three-quarters of all workers nationwide living paycheck to paycheck, the City's pilot is a bright spot in America's ongoing savings crisis, and a model for other major U.S. cities and employers.
"Emergency savings programs like the City of Boston's pioneering work can strengthen individuals, families and communities at little or no cost to employers," said Timothy Flacke, executive director of Commonwealth. "Splitting paychecks to build savings by even small amounts can help people build financial resilience, lower employee stress and even increase worker productivity."
The City's Economic Mobility Lab and the Mayor's Office of Financial Empowerment initiated and designed the test, which ran from June through October 2019 with BCYF employees and from August through October 2019 with library personnel. Prizes and incentives for the test were funded by The Rockefeller Foundation, that also supports the Economic Mobility Lab.
Workers said they were pleased by the incentives and the encouragement to save for emergencies and other expenses.
"I had been meaning to put money from every paycheck into a savings account, but never followed through. This program," a city librarian told researchers, "gave me the final push to finally make it happen."
The City of Boston and Commonwealth are sharing their findings with other government and corporate employers. Among their recommendations for future programs: determine up front the strengths and limitations of payroll systems, use all existing communications paths to inform workers about split deposits and incentives, and note that while programs may start small, keep scaling in mind.
Mayor Walsh also recently announced that Boston Saves, the City of Boston's children's savings account program, has launched an online portal to help families of Boston Public Schools (BPS) kindergartners track their savings progress for their children. The portal, called the Savings Center, enables families to view the $50 starting deposit in their child's Boston Saves account, earn more money for the account, and view all of their savings for their child in one place.
The Economic Mobility Lab is a team of social entrepreneurs centrally located in the Mayor's Office of Policy that researches and tests ideas with the potential to dramatically increase upward economic mobility for low- and moderate-income Bostonians. The Lab aims to ensure City government supports residents during the times that matter most, organizing action around key moments in people's lives such as: early childhood and child care, a first job, the transition to college and career, and preparing for unexpected expenses. The Lab launched in late 2017 as a flagship program of the City's Resilience Strategy with support from the Rockefeller Foundation.ABOUT COMMONWEALTH
Commonwealth strengthens the financial opportunity and security of financially vulnerable people by discovering ideas, piloting solutions and driving innovations to scale. Our work has enabled more than 750,000 Americans to save over $2 billion. We collaborate with employers, consumers, the financial services industry, policy makers, fintechs, and mission-driven organizations to build solutions that make people financially secure. Learn more at www.buildcommonwealth.org.