BOSTON ( TheStreet) -- With half of workers lacking access to workplace retirement plans, several states are leading the charge to create their own Individual Retirement Accounts.

So-called Universal Voluntary Retirement Accounts would be a low-cost option to an IRA combining a state's existing retirement system with professional fund management. The buying power and influence wielded by a state would help reduce costs and complexities that prevent many small businesses and non-profits from starting retirement plans.

The Economic Opportunity Institute, a nonprofit public-policy center in Washington state and a member of the national Economic Analysis and Research Network, is a proponent, describing the plans as critical for small-business competitiveness. Workers would benefit from easy-to-manage payroll deductions, a pre-selected menu of investment options and a retirement plan that can move from job to job.

According to the EOI, two out of three low-wage workers and one in four high-wage workers lack access to a retirement plan in the U.S. In 2007, 80% of private-sector workers in businesses with fewer than 25 employees didn't participate in a pension plan. Even in companies with 500 or more employees, 43% lacked coverage.

In Rhode Island, a new commission will study the establishment of Universal Voluntary Retirement Accounts.

Nearly half of Rhode Island's retirees have only Social Security, says Xay Khamsyvoravong, deputy chief of staff for Rhode Island Treasurer Frank Caprio. A similar share of employers don't offer retirement benefits to full-time employees and just 19% extend plans to part-time workers.

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