Retirement security for those currently or recently in the middle class is no sure thing. 49% of the private work force has neither defined benefit (traditional pensions) or defined contribution (401(k)) retirement plans, while public sector pensions are coming under increasing attack. The United States has the highest elder poverty rate, 25% (measured as 50% of median income), of any industrialized nation bigger than Ireland. An estimated $6.6 trillion shortfall in retirement savings shows how the shift from traditional pensions to 401(k) plans has been totally inadequate to meet people’s future needs.
Yet what passes for wisdom among the Very Serious People (VSP) is that we need to make a stealth cut to Social Security via a less generous inflation adjustment, while Republican plans for Medicare would shift an astounding $34 trillion in medical costs on to seniors whose income would be falling in real terms. This is a recipe for disaster.
So what do we really need to do now? Several different proposals are currently in the mix, all of which would address the income shortfall to varying degrees.
Iowa Senator Tom Harkin, chair of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, released a report in July 2012, “The Retirement Crisis and a Plan to Solve It.” It proposes a fairly small increase to Social Security benefits (about $60 monthly to the lowest earners) and replaces the current inflation factor (CPI-Urban wage earners) not with the chintzy “chained CPI” the VSP want, but with the more generous CPI-Elderly, which recognizes that seniors consume a larger share of rapidly rising cost products, most obviously health care. The other innovation in the Harkin plan is the introduction of “USA” (Universal, Secure, and Adaptable) retirement funds which would require both employer and employee contributions, with special tax credits for low-income workers. These funds would provide what might be called a “semi-defined benefit” that could be adjusted downward if there were a prolonged stock market slump, but otherwise would provide a predictable level of benefit to its recipients.
As pension expert Jane White contends, this proposal is vague when it is not simply inadequate. She argues for a plan like the Australian “Superannuation” plan, where employers are required to put in 9% of the worker’s income. Her proposal for the U.S. would be a 9% contribution for large companies and 6% for small firms. It would be portable among companies, and employees would immediately own their employer’s contribution (vesting), in contrast to the current situation where that can take years. She argues that the big problem with U.S. pensions isn’t that not enough people have 401(k)’s (though with 49% of private workers not having one, I’m not sure I’m persuaded), but that the employer contribution is so small. By contrast, Harkin’s USA plan does not specify a level of employer contributions, which is definitely a drawback when the savings shortfall is so severe.
Chosen excerpts by Job Market Monitor from
For the very first time in history, the number of workers over age 55 will surpass the number of workers ages 25 to 34. Since 1990, the number of older workers has been increasing steadily, while the number of younger workers in that specific age cohort has been steadily declining. It’s just a matter of … Continue reading »
Mickie Ashman has what she regards as the ideal arrangement at work as she nears retirement. The 66-year-old Calgary human-resources co-ordinator has the security of a permanent job at AltaGas Ltd., an energy infrastructure firm, but she has been able to reduce her work hours from full-time to a more comfortable three days a week. … Continue reading »
Social Security program to run out of money by 2035 | Economy | News | Financial Post The Social Security program will exhaust its trust fund in 2035 and have to start reducing benefits to senior citizens unless Congress intervenes, its trustees said. That is three years sooner than projected in 2011 for the retirement … Continue reading »
Raising the ages at which people can collect Medicare and Social Security would reduce federal spending and increase federal revenues by inducing some people to work longer. However, raising the eligibility ages for those programs also would reduce people’s lifetime Social Security benefits and cause many of the people who would otherwise have enrolled in … Continue reading »
State government pensions have attracted considerable media and scholarly attention. Less well understood are the nation’s 3,196 locally administered plans. The paper represents a first step toward filling this gap. After reviewing issues common to state and local plans, it summarizes existing data and research on local pensions. Like many institutions now prevalent in state …Continue reading »
For nearly all of the 20th century, employment of older workers decreased as increasing numbers retired. But since the mid-1990s, this trend has reversed. Employment among men at least 65 years of age, for example, has increased. The Great Recession of recent years has masked this long-term trend and the reasons for it and has … Continue reading »
US / Delaying retirement / From 42% in 2010 to 62% in 2012 among workers between the ages of 45 and 60
According to a new report released by The Conference Board, older workers intend to postpone their retirement now more than ever, despite a recovering U.S. economy. Using data from the August 2012 Consumer Confidence Survey, Trapped on the Worker Treadmill? documented a sharp increase in plans to delay retirement among workers between the ages of 45 … Continue reading »
A business group of top executives on Wednesday proposed reforms to Social Security and Medicare that would raise the enrollment age for both programs to 70 but not raise Social Security taxes paid by upper-income Americans. The Business Roundtable, which represents more than 200 chief executives from some of the largest U.S. corporations, also urged … Continue reading »
Private industry employers now spend more per employee hour worked for defined contribution retirement plans (retirement plans that specify the level of employer contributions and place those contributions into individual employee accounts) than for defined benefit retirement plans (plans that provide employees with guaranteed retirement benefits that are based on a benefit formula). March 2012 … Continue reading »
The release of the Federal Reserve’s 2010 Survey of Consumer Finances is a great opportunity to eeassess Americans’ retirement preparedness as measured by the National Retirement Risk Index (NRRI) write Alicia H. Munnell, Anthony Webb, and Francesca Golub-Sass in The National Retirement Risk Index: An Update. (Choosen excerpts by JMM to follow) NRRI shows the share …Continue reading »
The number of workers who are 75 and older has skyrocketed by 76.7% in the past two decades, according to research by the AARP Public Policy Institute. “We are living longer, healthier lives,” says Kerry Hannon, author of Great Jobs for Everyone 50+. “And the types of work that people do is not as labor … Continue reading »