Economic Insecurity Is Becoming the New Hallmark of Old Age

The United States is in the early stages of a crippling retirement crisis. Nearly half of all private-sector employees in the country—some 58 million people—had no company-sponsored retirement plan in 2018. As recently as 1999, only 39 percent of retiring workers were in this predicament. The retirement situation in the United States isn’t just bad; it’s getting worse with each passing year.

The crisis engulfs all kinds of workers: blue-collar teamsters, high-skilled professionals working for profitable corporations like Verizon and United Airlines, and public-sector civil servants in cities plagued by budget crises (read: Detroit). Many have lost their health insurance and pension benefits—and in some places, they’ve even been ordered to return payments that were miscalculated by pension authorities years in the past. An increasing number of people now work at jobs that never offered pension plans in the first place.

Pensions are regarded by most workers as among the most binding of all promises—a compact between themselves and their employers, sealed by years of labor. Americans assign to government the responsibility for protecting this sacred compact from any temptation by companies to raid retirement accounts for their own purposes. Increasingly, though, this once-unbreakable promise has become discretionary: Employers can abandon it when the stock market falters, when a firm goes through financial reorganization, or simply when shareholders demand higher profits. Insecurity is becoming the standard of older age in this country.

– The Nation

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