OPINION | ‘I don’t have a pension … What makes you so special?’


If your job offers a defined-benefit retirement plan, odds are good you’ve heard it before, maybe even across the negotiating table: Pensions are a relic of the past. Bolstered by slick marketing campaigns underwritten by Wall Street investment firms, employers have been successful in convincing a generation of American workers they don’t need pensions to have a secure retirement. But a growing body of research suggests the alternatives – 401(k) and other defined-contribution plans – are very risky business, and the U.S. may be headed for a retirement crisis as a result.

A March 2013 report by the New School’s Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis estimated that 75 percent of American workers ages 50 to 64 – those nearing retirement, or so they think – had an average retirement savings balance of less than $27,000 in 2010. Even among higher income brackets, the numbers are grim. Roughly half of retirees-to-be in the top 25 percent of earners have retirement savings balances of only $52,000, the report found.

Of course, that’s nowhere near enough money for a secure retirement, even when combined with Social Security income. In fact, a 2010 study by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College found an estimated $6.6 trillion gap between the money workers ages 32 to 64 will need in retirement and the money they will have during retirement.

So the next time someone asks why you think you deserve a pension, you might ask them whether they plan on winning the lottery or working into their 70s.