Unions Want to Take Over Your 401(k)
Tuesday, 17 Mar 2009 11:04 AM Article Font Size
By: Gene J. Koprowski
One of the nation's largest labor unions, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), is promoting a plan that will centralize all retirement plans for American workers, including private 401(k) plans, under one new "retirement system" for the United States.
In effect, government pensions for everyone, not unlike the European system and regardless of personal choice.
The SEIU, which was integral to the election of Barack Obama as president, is working with the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute (EPI), and the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, on SEIU's plan, called "the Retirement USA Initiative."
Claiming that the retirement system in place now has "failed most Americans," EPI vice president Ross Eisenbrey, told a labor union publication that "account balances have fallen by a third since late 2007, leaving many older workers unable to retire just as our economy is shedding millions of jobs.”
“The failure is broad and deep. It's not just a few people falling through the cracks: most of us already are in the ravine. Three in 10 have only a 401(k) or similar savings plan, and the rest of us are totally out of luck," said Eisenbrey.
Eisenbrey said that the median 401(k) account balance was $25,000 in 2006, and the median for workers near retirement was $40,000.
"Half of those who had a 401(k) were nearing retirement with less than $40,000 in their account," said Eisenbrey, who is trained as a lawyer and was a Clinton administration appointee from 1999 through 2001.
The proposed retirement system would be operated under the following parameters:
• Benefits that move with you, even if you change jobs
• Payouts only at retirement
• Shared responsibility among employers, the government and employees
• Pooled assets, controlled by professional investment managers
"The financial crisis and the economic recession have shone a spotlight on the inadequacies of today's system," said Stephen Albrecht, director of benefits for SEIU.
With the uncertainty in today's global economy, creating a whole new federal entitlement for American workers may not be easy to accomplish for these groups or their allies on Capitol Hill and in the Obama administration, as America's creditors are already getting nervous.
Chinese Premier Wen Jinbao is telling U.S. policymakers that he is concerned about the "safety" of his country's already huge holdings of U.S. debt.
"We have lent a huge amount of money to the United States," said Wen, according to a report in the Financial Times. "We are concerned about the safety of our assets. To be honest, I am a little worried. I request the U.S. to maintain its good credit, to honor its promises and to guarantee the safety of China's assets."
Retiree Annuities May Be Promoted by Obama Aides
The government is looking at ways to promote the conversion of 401(k)s and IRAs into steady payment streams after a significant decline in plan balances (Bloomberg) — The Obama administration is weighing how the government can encourage workers to turn their savings into guaranteed income streams following a collapse in retiree accounts when the stock market plunged.
The U.S. Treasury and Labor Departments will ask for public comment as soon as next week on ways to promote the conversion of 401(k) savings and Individual Retirement Accounts into annuities or other steady payment streams, according to Assistant Labor Secretary Phyllis C. Borzi and Deputy Assistant Treasury Secretary Mark Iwry, who are spearheading the effort.
Annuities generally guarantee income until the retiree’s death, and often that of a surviving spouse as well. They are designed to protect against the risk that retirees outlive their savings, a danger made clear by market losses suffered by older Americans over the last year, David Certner, legislative counsel for AARP, said in an interview.
“There’s a real desire on a lot of people’s parts to try to encourage something other than just rolling over a lump sum, to make sure this money will actually last a lifetime,” said Certner, legislative counsel for Washington-based AARP, the biggest U.S. advocacy group for retirees.
Promoting annuities may benefit companies that provide them through employers, including ING Groep NV (INGA:NA) and Prudential Financial Inc. (PRU), or sell them directly to individuals, such as American International Group Inc. (AIG), the insurer that has received $182.3 billion in government aid.