Reform has been the hot topic in the world of public employee retirement plans for years. Too often the conversation immediately turns to tossing out defined benefit pensions for government workers and replacing them with individual investment accounts like 401(k)s. Supporters of the 401(k) approach say these plans are a better fit for the modern worker; they are always fully funded; they give workers control over their own money; the public sector should follow the private sector's lead in eliminating pension plans. However, this thinking does not consider the uniqueness of public sector jobs, workers' lack of understanding of financial products, the impact on workers' retirement security, or the effect on the employer and taxpayers.
A recent report published by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) concludes that retirement security for Americans is on shaky ground and recommends Congress do something about it.
The September 30th Washington Post article, The New Reality of Old Age in America, by Mary Jordan and Kevin Sullivan is an eye-opening look at the state of senior citizens in the United States. The main takeaway from this piece: the days of retiring after a career of work with a gold watch and secure lifetime income are over for many Americans. The new reality is one where Social Security is the primary source of income with a full or part-time job as a supplement, forcing individuals to live out their remaining days near the poverty line.