The Retirement Crisis
Human Resource Executive (11/02) Vol. 16, No. 15 p.1; Strazewski, Len

Between 1999 and 2001 the total value of assets in 401(k) plans dropped from $1.8 trillion to $1.64 trillion--the plunge has spurred a renewed interest in retirement savings plans by the government and employers. Even old-fashioned pension plans which have not lost any of their long-term value are appearing underfunded for the first time in years, and pension funds lost about $260 billion in assets during 2001. In order to remain competitive and attract new employees, one expert says, employers will need to re-examine and redesign their retirement plan offerings in favor of balanced benefit packages. Concern is also growing among benefit experts about the effect that tax laws for defined-benefit plans have had on weakening those plans and workers' retirement security. The Pension Security Act (H.R. 3762) passed by the House of Representatives this year requires employers to provide more frequent retirement plan statements, and also places restrictions on company stock and blackout periods, while the Senate has considered bills that would place stricter rules on employers and increase plan sponsors' liability to plan participants. Some experts stress that the government should be stressing education, with an emphasis on diversification, for retirement plan participants. Experts also note that employers are increasingly cutting their funding for retirement medical benefits due to increasing medical costs, federal regulations, and the growing population of retirees. One study forecasts that by 2031 employers will only provide financial support for about 10 percent of retirement medical benefits.

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