Retirement security is almost at the point of becoming an oxymoron.
Since legislation was enacted during Roosevelt’s New Deal, generations have grown older understanding that they would have some financial provision to draw on when they stopped working.
Social Security was enacted in 1935 and has become the single most successful social program in U.S. history. It has lived up to (and some would say beyond) the dreams of its creators – to provide a supplemental benefit to retirees, the disabled and survivors. While undergoing some changes over the years, the program remains true to its founding mission.
Meanwhile, as union membership grew during the 1940s and 50s, its leaders negotiated another form of retirement security for their members: pensions. The bosses already had such agreements. Workers felt if it was good enough for the bosses, it was good enough for them. Those who stayed with a company through their careers reaped the benefit of the negotiations by knowing they would have a monthly check and (in some cases) health care benefits when they no longer punched a time clock. Having a defined-benefit pension plan was a sign that you were within the secure ranks of the middle class. That was enhanced in 1974 with the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, which provided protections for workers covered by multi-employer plans.
Starting in the 1980s, corporations began pressuring workers to accept less secure packages like 401(k) plans on the grounds they transferable and potentially offered bigger returns. The portability part was true, matching the interests of workers who tended to not seek the security of one job or one company for life. But like another concept introduced doing this period – the individual retirement account (IRA) – the 401(k) was less protected under federal law.
With Social Security, pensions, IRAs and 401(k) packages leading the way, working families felt they could face the future with financial tranquility. Then came the 21st century.
Bankruptcy laws have allowed companies to renege on their commitments to defined-benefit pensions. Stock manipulation and other corporate shenanigans have emptied many a 401(k) investment, as well as depleted pension funds. Low rates of return stymied the growth of IRAs. On top of all this, some wanted to dismantle Social Security and turn it over to the private sector.
The MTD believes all Americans, not just the rich, deserve to enjoy the benefits of a secure retirement. The MTD joins with its fellow labor colleagues in believing that legislators should keep their hands off Social Security, except for the necessary tweaks needed to keep it on its successful mission. However, the MTD does urge elected officials at all levels to find ways to ensure workers have adequate retirement packages for the day when they leave work and to maintain the benefits for those who already have retired.