A secure retirement preserves the American dream
By JENNIFER MUIR BEUTHIN, Contributing Columnist
Americans are deeply divided on many issues, but one issue that continues to unite us is a deep concern about economic security in retirement. A research report just released by the National Institute on Retirement Security found that 88 percent of Americans believe our nation faces a retirement crisis and 77 percent of Americans agree that the disappearance of pensions is killing the American dream. And these findings reflect levels of concern that remain high regardless of gender, income, age or party affiliation.
My life’s work is standing with social workers, public health nurses, clerical, custodial and other public workers whose pensions will average less than $3,000 a month, so these findings make it even more puzzling why a group of ultra-conservative, mostly multi-millionaires have made it their mission to destroy retirement security for workers.
These self-branded “reformers” have claimed in the pages of this paper they want simple pension reform, but they don’t offer any options that would improve the system. Instead, the proposals they make would all have one common outcome — the destruction of the pension system and the elimination of secure retirements for public workers. They have even promoted initiatives that would take away death and disability benefits from the families of deceased police officers and firefighters.
Their strategy is to pit public workers against private workers and drive people into 401(k)-style plans that have proven to be a failure as the basis of a secure retirement.
Unlike these “reformers” whose goal is to destroy pension systems, public workers recognize the need for solvent and secure retirement funds. We support responsible approaches to reducing unfunded liabilities over time and hundreds of labor organizations statewide have bargained contracts that increase employee contributions and reduce pension benefits and costs. The vast majority of public workers don’t receive Social Security — so a healthy, fair and sustainable pension system is critical.
The pension changes signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown were projected to save $85 billion over 30 years, and according to CalPERS these savings are being achieved at an even faster rate than projected. California public workers are now required to pay 50 percent of the normal cost of pensions, and are paying sometimes more than 20 percent of their salaries directly into their pension programs in Orange County. The law also capped pension benefits and eliminated pension spiking.
Every Californian deserves a solid and secure retirement, from peace officers to tech workers, bus drivers to nurses, public workers to private sector employees. Workers in the private sector should be especially alert and wary. They were sold a bill of goods when their pensions were eliminated in favor of 401(k) plans, a move the originators of 401(k) plans now say they regret.
Wall Street, where extraordinary recklessness seriously undermined pension solvency, would be happy to continue down a path toward decreasing retirement security and increasing fees for brokers and bankers. The question is, who will foot the bill for the millions of workers who will be unable to retire with dignity or security? Every worker deserves a livable pension and health benefit. Legitimate, well-intentioned pension reform advocates should be committed to avoiding the mistakes and pay more attention to the overwhelming majority of Americans who view pensions as a necessary component in the effort to preserve the American dream.
Jennifer Muir Beuthin is general manager of the Orange County Employees Association.
Publication Date: March 3, 2017