Preserving Pensions Is Next Hot Issue The Hill (05/14/03) p.23; Freed, Bruce
The declining value of Americans' pensions could become the next big political issue. Since reaching a peak of 46 percent in 1980, the share of the private-sector work force with retirement plans has shrunk, and the current lackluster economy continues to wreak havoc upon workers' pensions. Not only have employers gradually moved the responsibility of funding retirement plans to employees, with a massive shift in many companies toward cash balance plans over traditional pensions, but poor stock market returns have greatly reduced the pension assets of many baby boomers. The fact that executives at troubled airlines Delta, American, United, and other companies have opted to preserve the million-dollar pension assets of top executives at the expense of rank-and-file workers' pensions highlights the need for legislative action on the issue. Advocates for change, including Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), say Congress and Corporate America have long avoided the issue, but argue that increasing disdain over the treatment of workers' pensions will quickly thrust the issue into the middle of the political arena. Reps. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.) have introduced a bill addressing the pension issue, but critics say that the proposed legislation focuses too much on business needs and not enough on providing workers with mandatory coverage and direct or matching contributions for their pension plans.