Friday, June 29, 2007

Remember Pensions?...Far Too Few Do

by Maria Freese, NCPSSM Government Relations
& Policy Director

Senator Tom Harkin has introduced Pension legislation, the Restoring Pension Promises to All Workers Act, which we hope will ultimately become law.

Social Security was never designed to be the only source of a person’s income in retirement – it was always intended to be one income stream out of 3 in retirement – the other two being income from traditional pensions and income from individual savings. This so-called 3-legged retirement stool is coming under increasing pressure.

Unfortunately, we all know that coverage in traditional pension plans is dropping as only about 20% of today’s workers in the private sector are covered by defined benefit plans. And although coverage in 401k plans is growing, the average balance in the 401k plans of workers in the last decade prior to retirement is only about $60,000. If it weren’t for the run-up in housing values – many workers would be facing retirement with few assets available to finance it.

Senator Harkin’s legislation addresses a number of inequities in our pension system. The provisions he includes won’t help everyone but for the people they do affect, his bill could represent the only thing standing between them and living a life of poverty in retirement.

For workers caught in the globalization wars who are pawns in the game of mergers and acquisitions, the Harkin bill could keep them from losing half their pensions as workers caught up in a recent Halliburton re-shuffling did. For widows and divorced spouses of federal workers, the Harkin bill would help take the gamble out of survivor and retirement annuities, closing several longstanding loopholes that wipe out the pension benefits of some spouses of federal employees.

While it seems as though these glitches in the pension system should be easy to fix because they are so egregious, in fact they are not. Getting them passed will take the commitment of someone like Senator Harkin who believes now is the time to finally right these wrongs.

The National Committee commends Senator Harkin for taking on this challenge. And we look forward to working with him to get the Restoring Pension Promises to All Workers Act signed into law.

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