While the Obama administration hasn't revealed its suggestions for retirement savings account policy, change is coming. With Starbucks, Motorola, Sears and more than 20 others suspending matching funds, reform is sorely needed. Economic hardships, meanwhile, have forced 20 percent of U.S. workers to halt contributions, says the American Association of Retired People. And BenefitStreet.com calculates that defined contribution (DC) plans have lost $1.1 trillion collectively since the market's peak.

"The 401 (k) experiment has failed," says Teresa Ghilarducci, a New School for Social Research professor. "We have road-tested them and they don't stand up to the bumps of the normal financial markets and the limit of what human beings can do."

She is not alone. "It's time for a radical U-turn," say Pamela Perun of the Aspen Institute and C. Eugene Stuerle of the Peter J. Peterson Foundation in an Urban Institute report. They endorse a U.S. variation of the U.K.'s "Super Simple" savings program, which will require the government to provide a 1% tax break, workers to set aside at least 4% of pay, and employers to contribute at least 3% of pay.

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