Share This Page

Obama pitches retirement savings options at U.S. Steel's Irvin Plant

| Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014, 12:51 p.m.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
President Obama speaks onstage during his tour on Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014, at U.S. Steel’s Irvin Plant in West Mifflin.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
President Obama speaks during his stop on Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014, at U.S. Steel’s Irvin Plant in West Mifflin. The plant was one of several stops on his cross-country tour in the days following his State of the Union address.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
People clamor for a handshake and a photo of President Obama as he works the rope line after speaking on Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014, at U.S. Steel’s Irvin Plant in West Mifflin.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
President Obama shares a laugh with plant manager Amy Smith-Yoder (front left) as he tours U.S. Steel’s Irvin Plant in West Mifflin on Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
President Obama talks to USW Local 2227 President Kevin McKelvey (center left) and worker Larry McGowan (left) as he takes a tour of U.S. Steel’s Irvin Plant in West Mifflin on Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014, during a stop as he campaigned across the country following his State of the Union Address.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
A crowd listens as President Obama speaks on Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014, at U.S. Steel’s Irvin Plant in West Mifflin.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
USW Local 2227 President Kevin McKelvey (left) and plant manager Amy Smith-Yoder take President Obama on a tour on Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014, at U.S. Steel’s Irvin Plant in West Mifflin. The plant was one of a handful of cross-country stops the president will be making in the days following his State of the Union address.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Security keeps a watchful eye as President Obama speaks during his tour on Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014, at U.S. Steel’s Irvin Plant in West Mifflin.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
People clamor for a handshake from President Obama during his stop at U.S. Steel’s Irvin Plant in West Mifflin on Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
President Obama waves as he arrives aboard Air Force One at the 171st Air Refueling Wing of the Pennsylvania Air National Guard in Findlay on Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
A crowd listens as President Obama speak during his stop on Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014, at U.S. Steel’s Irvin Plant in West Mifflin.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
President Obama leaves Marine One and heads back to Air Force One on Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014, at the 171st Air Refueling Wing of the Pennsylvania Air National Guard in Findlay.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
Secret Service and security keep watch, bundled up for the sub-zero wind chills at the 171st Air Refueling Wing of the Pennsylvania Air National Guard during the president's arrival in Findlay on Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
A Marine bows forward to keep his hat on as Marine One lands on Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014, at the 171st Air Refueling Wing of the Pennsylvania Air National Guard in Findlay.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
President Obama talks with people on the tarmac after arriving aboard Air Force One at the 171st Air Refueling Wing of the Pennsylvania Air National Guard in Findlay on Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
Air Force One comes in for a landing at the 171st Air Refueling Wing of the Pennsylvania Air National Guard in Findlay on Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
Air Force One moves across the tarmac at the 171st Air Refueling Wing of the Pennsylvania Air National Guard in Findlay on Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
Air Force One comes in for a landing at the 171st Air Refueling Wing of the Pennsylvania Air National Guard in Findlay on Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014.

Saying he wants to “restore some sense of economic security” in an economy in which the middle class is losing ground, President Obama on Wednesday called on Congress to expand workers' access to retirement savings options.

Obama spoke at U.S. Steel's Irvin Plant in West Mifflin, where he signed an executive order starting a new kind of savings bond that he said would help workers build a “nest egg.” But some financial analysts say the low rates of return likely to be offered by Obama's “MyRA” program won't generate the kind of income people will need to retire comfortably.

“If you've worked hard all your life, you deserve a secure retirement,” Obama said.

The stop occurred a day after Obama delivered his fifth State of the Union address, which focused on the challenges confronting middle- and low-income workers. His speech to the 1,500 or so invitation-only guests in West Mifflin echoed its themes.

Obama met briefly with U.S. Steel CEO Mario Longhi and company vice president Anthony Bridge as well as United Steelworkers International President Leo Gerard. He toured part of the Irvin plant with plant manager Amy Smith-Yoder and Kevin McKelvey, president of USW Local 2227.

After the tour and speech, he signed an executive order directing Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew to establish the savings bonds. Named and modeled after existing Individual Retirement Accounts or IRAs, the bonds offer tax benefits that regular savings accounts do not, don't lose value and can be withdrawn tax-free any time.

“It's safe. These balances will never go down in value,” Obama said.

Lew, whose agency will set up the bonds, accompanied the president, whose directive is one in a series of executive orders Obama said he's using to circumvent a divided Congress that's on pace to be the least productive in decades.

Obama said he hoped Congress would adjust the tax code to provide more incentives for people to save for retirement, but “I'm not going to wait for Congress.”

An executive order, signed on Tuesday and highlighted during Obama's stop at a Costco in Landham, Md., on Wednesday morning, requires federal contractors to pay workers at least $10.10 an hour, which Obama wants Congress to set as the minimum wage.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and his fellow Republicans cautioned Obama on use of executive orders to make sure he doesn't overstep his authority.

“We have a Constitution that divides power in government for very, very good reasons,” Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Lehigh Valley, said during a conference call with reporters. He said the proper use of executive orders is to implement laws Congress passes.

“We don't elect a president to unilaterally pass his own laws,” Toomey said.

Ken Jaros, a retired professor at the University of Pittsburgh's School of Public Health who attended Obama's event, said he's tired of the partisan gridlock that led to a government shutdown and prevented passage of popular laws. He doubts Obama's executive authority will be enough to get around it.

“I don't suspect he's going to be able to make major policy changes without Congress,” Jaros said.

The MyRA offers an early example of Obama's limits. He wants to revamp the tax laws to give middle-class workers more motivation to invest, but he needs Congress to act on that.

The program Obama is establishing on his own doesn't offer the retirement security he desires, said Bob Fragasso, founder and CEO of Downtown firm Fragasso Financial Advisors.

“People will not retire successfully earning four, five, six percent interest,” he said.

MyRA could make a useful piece of a person's retirement plan, but if workers rely too heavily on the low-interest growth, it could undermine Obama's goal of offering more people a comfortable retirement, Fragasso said.

“Allowing people a false sense of security by peddling MyRAs does them a disservice,” Fragasso said.

Preparing for retirement security should begin in grade school, he said.

“We have failed our children in all aspects of functional financial education,” Fragasso said. People become adults without knowing how to negotiate a mortgage, or use compound interest to their benefit, or “the essence of investing one's money in the real world.”

Before people can begin saving for retirement, however, they need good-paying jobs, said Irvin Plant employee John Pressley, who runs a machine that binds steel coils for storage and transportation. He worked at U.S. Steel's Homestead Works before it closed and became a shopping district. He joined Irvin's workforce in 2000 and is nearing retirement age. With his two partial pensions — from Homestead and Irvin — he said he'll be OK.

“It won't be a sustainable wage, but along with Social Security, I ought to be able to live comfortably,” said Pressley, 63, of Verona. He paused a moment before adding, “As long as I stay healthy.”

Obama landed at the Pennsylvania Air National Guard 171st Air Refueling Wing in Findlay about 12:15 p.m. with Sen. Bob Casey, D-Scranton, and Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Forest Hills.

He flew to Allegheny County Airport aboard Marine One, with three Osprey aircraft and a Sikorsky as escorts. Obama returned the same way and left Pittsburgh International Airport for Washington aboard Air Force One about 3:30 p.m.

Staff writer Bob Kerlik contributed. Mike Wereschagin is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7900 or mwereschagin@tribweb.com.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.