States are starting to help people prepare for retirement. (iStock)

So much has been written about 401(k)s and other employer-sponsored retirement savings plans that we sometimes forget theses sobering statistics: 50 percent of American workers — 55 million people — have no access to an employer-sponsored retirement plan.

“The result is a growing American underclass, in which a third of current retirees live almost entirely on Social Security and fully half of future retirees will face reduced standards of living,” according to a  recent New York Times editorial.

Most people have saved very little for retirement, and people without access to company-sponsored plans, such as 401(k) plans, save even less. According to the Employee Benefits Research Institute, 57 percent of Americans have less than $25,000 saved for retirement, and more than a quarter say they have $1,000 or less.

Legislation to address the issue through an auto-enroll IRA have gone nowhere in Congress. So a patchwork of state programs is cropping up across the nation.

California is the latest with its California Secure Choice Retirement Program. The state’s 6.8 million workers who don’t have an employee plan would be automatically enrolled in the new program, and 2 to 5 percent of their salaries would be automatically deducted from their payroll checks — unless they opt out.

“This is a landmark step towards ensuring that nearly 7 million Californians who have been closed off to retirement savings accounts, get access to a simple way to build their assets and economic security over time,” said Blanca Castro, AARP California Director of Advocacy.

The legislation still needs to be signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, but that is not expected to be a problem.

Thus California becomes the latest state to pass such a plan. Similar plans have been passed in several states, though they all are different. Connecticut, Illinois and Oregon have passed already passed laws. Altogether, 30 states are at various stages of considering them.

Other news: 

Labor Department makes it easier for states to offer retirement plans

How California is pioneering a new retirement savings plan

Explained, the nation’s retirement crisis in two charts

Question of the week: We got such a huge response from last week’s question, we will run the responses for the next couple of weeks. And we’ll continue to take your responses.

Would you retire at 60, or would you keep working? Why? Send comments to rodney.brooks@washpost.com. Please include your name, city and state. In the subject line put “To retire or not”

Vickie Wilkins of Orange County, Va.: 

I have been working with a financial planner to make sure I retire at 60 years old.  Unless some unfortunate thing happen (like medical bills) I plan to kiss the workforce goodbye.  There are so many things to do like volunteering, traveling and making a difference in the world.  I am excited just typing I will retire in five years.

Kurt Huffman of Silverstone Ranch, Nev.: 

I define retirement as doing what I want to do.  I think it is critical that people do “retire” but that may or may not mean “quit working” or “quit my job.”  Early on I was “working” and trying to improve my lot in life instead of using my strengths to enjoy each day the best way I could. I’m 57 and I “retired” about a dozen years ago when I realized I was already doing what I wanted to do in retirement.  I was getting paid, but I was retired.  I’m still getting paid (in a different role), and I’m still retired. Loving the re-defined retirement,

 John Hall of Fairfax, Va.:

I am going to retire this year!
Read your article with interest and have had similar reactions to my plans to retire at the end 2016 when I will be 61.

Naomi St.Gregory of Deephaven, Minn., wrote:

Yes I’d retire at 60. I still have dreams that need tending to.

Tony Warren, 61, of Bellevue, Wash. wrote:

It’s 8 a.m. Tuesday morning and I have zero responsibilities today.  I’ll get to gym no doubt and help my wife plan our upcoming trip to China. Sure, I miss the excitement of an IT career sometimes, but not the stress.  I like having everything happen at a slower pace. No more rushing around to get things done.  By the time the commute starts each afternoon, I’m at home, in a park, or far from the maddening crowd.

Last week I played around with Quora and averaged over 500 hits a day.  That would never have happened while working.

My most recent retirement columns

The art of keeping an eye on your aging parents

When did retirement become a dirty word?

Medical costs for retirees still rising

Launching a business: Don’t let your dream drain your retirement savings

Losing sleep over retirement?

Michelle Singletary’s Color of Money columns

Book club: ‘Making Social Security work for you’

Ready to refinance? Make sure you shop around

Some guideposts for those caught in Crazy Credit Town

That is not the IRS calling you

In the Face of IRS Impersonators, vive la resistance!

Write Brooks at The Washington Post, 1301 K St. NW, Washington, D.C., 20071, or rodney.brooks@washpost.com. On Twitter @Perfiguy. Personal responses may not be possible, and comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer’s name, unless otherwise requested. To read more, go to washingtonpost.com/business