SKIP CHEATHAM: This morning you are joining us with some news from the retirement front, is that right?
MELLODY: You’ve got it, Skip. There were a couple of stories last week that really illustrate the challenges that many Americans are faced with when it comes to preparing for retirement. As a society, the institutions that were once foundations of middle class retirement are breaking down.
On top of that, the programs that were meant to replace or supplement the old institutions, such as employer-sponsored employment plans, are not enough, for a number of reasons. Because of that, I want to highlight a few of these trends that people have to be aware of so they can be prepared for retirement.
SKIP: Wow, that doesn’t sound good. Let’s start off with some news relating to employer-sponsored retirement plans.
Well, the news here is not great. A recent report found that by the year 2011, nearly half of American workers were employed at companies that did not offer a retirement plan. This is part of a long-term slide that showed that, from 1999 to 2011, the percentage of workers being offered employer-sponsored retirement plans declined from 61% to 53%. When you include in this number people who did not participate in a plan offered to them or who were not working, an incredible 68% of working-age people (25-64) either do not have access to, or do not participate, in an employer-sponsored plan.
SKIP: What is causing this decline in employer-sponsor plans?
MELLODY: There are a few factors that explain why employer-sponsored accounts are on the decline. First, a larger percentage of people are working for smaller companies, which means more people are working for employers who are less likely to have a 401(k) or defined benefit plan. On top of this, as the rate of unionization has plummeted in American, there has been a switch to contingent workers, such as independent contractors, which has dramatically undercut the leverage of workers.
Now it should be noted that the decline in employer-sponsored plans does not cut across all groups equally. The groups that have seen the biggest negative impact include non-citizens, workers in personal services and Hispanics. Other groups with especially low participation rates include those who work at small companies, and those working in construction.
In contrast, those covered by a union contract and those at firms of 1,000+ employees have a much higher chance of having access to a retirement plan. Among our community, the tradition of working in the public sector and government has meant that many black workers have defined benefits retirement packages through public sector unions.