Monday, July 25, 2016

The Plight of Retirement And It's No-Mention Status in the Election

We have a Presidential election coming up. We have 34 US Senate seats that need to be filled this year and 435 seats in the House of Representatives. I've looked pretty closely. I've not see a single comment from an individual running for one of those offices that mentions retirement policy or retirement plans. That, while a majority of working Americans either worry daily about the prospects of retirement or would and should have that worry if they came out from under that rock they have hidden under.

There has been far more emphasis on other areas of workers' rewards packages and frankly, that emphasis has not had a major positive effect on the bulk of those American workers. Perhaps you have seen differently, but the three things that have gotten lots of focus ordered only by the way that I choose to type them have been:

  • Health care (primarily the Affordable Care Act)
  • The need (according to many to reduce executive compensation
  • The hourly minimum wage
Let's assume for the moment that if you are reading this that you are over the age of 25 (if you're under 25 and you have an interest in what I write here, I expect that you will have a successful future) and that you have some useful skill set. If that's the case, then there is a good chance that you are employed, employable, and looking for work, not working by choice, or retired. 

If you are working and you fall into those categories, there is a very good chance that you have access to decent health care benefits and, in fact, you probably had them or would have had them had you been similarly situated, before the effective date of the Affordable Care Act. So, while the ACA may have made some changes to your health benefits, it's not likely that those differences were life-changing for you (yes, I understand that uncapping the lifetime maximum and allowing your kids up to age 26 on your policy could have had that big a difference for you).

Similarly, most of us are not executives and certainly not of the classification whose compensation draws the significant ire of others. As individuals, we might have opinions on levels of executive compensation or we might not, but most of us know that even reducing our CEO's pay by 75% would not change our compensation one iota. We are compensated roughly on our value in the marketplace. Our value does not change merely because our CEO takes a pay cut.

Finally, there is the hourly minimum wage. I could be wrong, but my observation is that there just aren't a whole lot of people earning less than $15 an hour (unless they are currently in school) who read this blog. So, for you, the hourly minimum wage probably doesn't make much of a personal difference (I understand that you may have very strong opinions on it, but those are from the standpoint of what's right and what's wrong).

Where is poor little retirement? Social Security gets debated. But, we all know that you just can't retire on Social Security. 

I'm not going to spout statistics here because I don't have them at my fingertips. But, my observation is that a generation ago, far more employees than not were covered by meaningful employer-provided defined benefit (DB) plans. And, among those who were not, likely the majority of the rest were in often generous money purchase or profit sharing plans. 401(k) plans were in their infancy. As I've written many times here, 401(k) plans were never intended to be a primary means of retirement savings. 

That was the way of the mid 70s through mid 80s. 

Today, as we know, more employees than not, have a 401(k) plan as their only employer-sponsored retirement plan. Many of them are not generous. Many are poorly invested. In a perfect world, the employees in many of those plans will find it difficult to retire with anywhere near the standards of living they are used to. 

It gets worse, of course. Many of us will have or have had work interruptions or, at the very least, periods where we need to reduce or even cease our 401(k) contributions.  

We have a crisis. 

There, I said it. I believe it. 

In fact, it affects and will affect more Americans more profoundly than most of the issues being hotly debated. It certainly affects us more than does knowledge about Hillary Clinton's emails or Donald Trump's tax returns.

Yet, the candidates remain silent.

So very sad.

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