We've got a retirement crisis on our hands, and it isn't going away anytime soon.
According to the Employee Benefit Research Institute annual survey, workers are increasingly postponing their retirements, hoping they can manage to squeeze a few more years of labor out of their tired bodies because they cannot afford to retire.
That bleak picture is playing out across Connecticut. A new study confirms what many of us already know — only about 50 percent of Connecticut workers have access to retirement plans at work. The study, by economists at The New School, shows that if trends continue the number of seniors living in poverty is going to sky rocket as workers, forced by health or discrimination into retirement, will not have sufficient assets to afford even basic expenses.
What's more, the New School's research finds that the average person in Connecticut who is over the age of 65 and in the bottom 20 percent of the income distribution lives on $7,368 per year, including what they get from Social Security and from public assistance programs. People in the 20th to 40th percentile of the income distribution live on $14, 673 per year.
When our parents retired, they did knowing that between their personal savings, their pension, and Social Security — call it a three-legged stool of retirement security — they'd be able to afford spoiling their grandkids.
That stool is broken. Corporations have abandoned their responsibility to provide employees with retirement plans; every year more many workers find it hard or impossible to save as their pay drops and the cost of living escalates. That leaves only Social Security, which is not, and was never intended to be, enough to live on in retirement.
There are ways to fix our broken retirement system.
Sen. Martin Looney, D-New Haven, sponsored a bill now in the General Assembly that would allow workers who do not have access to a retirement plan through their employer to deposit a percentage of their annual salary into a retirement savings trust fund. The plan would be portable, so workers could take their investment with them from job to job. And unlike other portable plans this has low administrative costs, because it's a not-for-profit structure administered through the state treasurer. Whatever administrative costs are associated with the plan are charged to the participants, not taxpayers.
Our union represents more than 32,000 public service workers, the vast majority of whom are fortunate enough to have a real, defined benefit, pensions. That's because we're there to fight for them at the bargaining table. Those pensions ensure that after a long career, workers are able to live in dignity, to enjoy their family, to deal with unexpected expenses and help "Main Street" because that's where they spend their retirement income.
Every future retiree should have the opportunity to retire with adequate income and dignity — it's what we called the American way. The savings trust fund bill can make that happen by providing a vehicle for retirement savings for private sector workers.
Sal Luciano is executive director of Council 4 AFSCME, a union representing 32,000 workers across Connecticut.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun