Nearly nine out of 10 Americans believe that everyone should have access to a defined-benefit pension plan. Most also support creative government policies that would help make this dream a reality. These are some of the findings of a recent national public opinion survey of more than 800 Americans undertaken for the National Institute on Retirement Security (NIRS). On a conference call announcing the survey results, NIRS Executive Director Beth Almeida said she hopes that the survey can serve as an opinion benchmark for policymakers as they attempt to improve the fading retirement prospects of millions of people.
According to the survey, 85 percent of the public view retirement security as a shared responsibility between individuals, employers and the government. People believe the three-legged retirement stool of the past, consisting of Social Security, pension plans and private savings, is still the best approach to meeting retirement needs in the 21st century.
According to Almeida, “to restore retirement readiness,”
Americans would be well-served by policies from the new Congress and Administration that take a comprehensive approach: recognizing that 401(k) plans can’t do it alone; shoring up Social Security, and re-tooling pensions for the 21st century.
The retirement leg most in need of fixing is the pension leg. It has provided support to fewer and fewer retirees as employers have replaced, instead of supplementing, them with defined-contribution plans, such as 401(k) plans.
But as Almeida puts it, people are not looking for grandma’s pension plan. Since many people today will work for several employers throughout their lives, pension portability is key. Americans are open to new ways the government might promote pensions. For instance, the government could help small employers band together to provide pensions to employees by serving as a plan sponsor or incubator. Almeida says that today nothing less than a pension renaissance is needed that simultaneously meets the needs of employers, workers and the economy.
North Dakota Rep. Earl Pomeroy, who joined the call announcing the survey results, emphasized how worried people are about their retirement plans as the economy takes a nosedive.
The market downturn has reintroduced people to the concept of risk and the defined contribution format places the risk solely and exclusively on the shoulders of the workers.
He went on to say:
[T]he long-term patient capital role pensions have played in our economy has been very important as they have invested in businesses, invested in them over the long-haul.
In other words, the very pensions that Americans believe should be accessible to everyone could provide the foundation for an economy that works for everyone.
Read More at the AFL-CIO Now Blog.
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