Hanukkah 5775
Sometimes Elders Trouble Me

Pension Theft

IMPORTANT PROGRAMMING NOTE: Back in 2008, I made a presentation about web design for elders at the Gnomedex Conference in Seattle. I met a lot of young, interesting and engaged tech workers there and one of the them was Dave Delaney.

Dave is an expert on digital marketing, social media strategy and business networking, and he hosts a regular podcast, New Business Networking. Yesterday, we recorded an interview about age, blogging and networking online and off.

Dave is smart, knowledgeable and loads of fun to talk with. You can listen to the podcast here at Dave's website. I'm sure you will enjoy it.


Pensions are disappearing from American business. Each year, fewer companies offer them but if that's the case when you take a job, at least you can make other plans for your old age.

But there is something awful happening to people already retired: benefits are being cut and even lost.

That happens in different ways – some legal, some questionable. Pension plans can be underfunded and so run out of enough money to pay all of what's owed to retirees. Bankruptcy can end pensions altogether. The Enron scandal is a famous example - employees have never seen a penny.

Think about that: you planned reasonably well and with a combination of personal savings, Social Security and a pension plan you paid into during your working years, you get by. That combined income might be modest, maybe it doesn't allow luxuries, but you can afford your home, your car and other necessities.

Until one day, you get an announcement that your pension is being cut by – oh, maybe 50 percent. Or perhaps it won't be paid at all anymore.

Now what? Will you lose your home? Will you still be able to afford co-pays for prescription drugs you and your partner need? You scramble to figure out your new financial reality.

This is no small or occasional screwup. It is so common that a couple of years ago, Ellen E. Schultz wrote a highly acclaimed and frightening book about it titled, Retirement Heist, subtitled How Companies Plunder and Profit from the Nest Eggs of American Workers.

Consider what is happening today to state employee pensions in Kansas.

You will recall that the state's governor, Sam Brownbeck, slashed taxes for businesses and high income earners so that now, two years later, tax revenues have plummeted by a quarter of a billion (with a B) dollars leaving gigantic bills that need to be paid and not enough money to do so. Brownback's solution:

”Slash the state’s required pension contribution by $40 million to balance the state budget. But Kansas already has one of the worst-funded pension systems in the nation. The state was also recently sanctioned by the Securities and Exchange Commission for not accurately disclosing the shortfalls,” reports International Business Times.

“Brownback, an icon of tea party economics who was re-elected in 2014, defended his proposal to divert money from the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System (KPERS), telling the Wichita Eagle: 'It’s kind of, uh, well where are you going to go for the funds?'”

Oh, of course. Why didn't I think of that: those old people don't need the pensions they paid into. Who cares if they can't afford to eat.

Just when you think nothing else can go wrong, it does. Remember all that noise last weekend about Congress staying in session overtime to pass the $1.1 trillion spending bill so the government wouldn't shut down this week? The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM) explains what else is in that bill that is now law.

"[It] reversed 40 years of federal law protecting retirees’ pensions. The change will allow benefit cuts for up to 10 million workers, many of them part of a shrinking middle-class workforce in businesses such as construction and trucking. There wasn’t a single Congressional hearing on the plan before it was slipped into the spending bill...”

Bad enough, right? Now read the interpretation of that change from the Wall Street Journal. The emphasis is mine:

”Lawmakers and experts, while divided over the merits of the change, largely agreed that it could well be the first of many.

"The measure 'would set a terrible precedent,' said Karen Friedman, executive vice president of the Pension Rights Center, a group that advocates for wider pension coverage and opposes benefit cuts. The bill could encourage similar cutbacks in troubled state and local pension plans, and possibly even Social Security and Medicare, she said.”

It sometimes happens that way with legislation; a limited exception (as bad as it is) is used to grease the skids for expansion to areas where it was not intended.

I'm sure you'll feel much better about about that possibility when you read this, from the same Wall Street Journal story:

“'Facing up to the insolvency is healthy,' said Alex Pollock, a scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute. While it is difficult to consider cutting retiree benefits, it is often better than taking the money from other people, such as taxpayers, he said.”

It is a foregone conclusion that the next Congress, which convenes in January and is entirely controlled by the Republicans, will try to cut Social Security and Medicare one way or another. We cannot trust President Barack Obama not to go along. I hope you will be with me, ready to fight back as hard as we can.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Henry Lowenstern: Memories of a German Childhood

Comments

I don't know why the short-sightedness of Congress still astounds me. Do any of my fellow citizens feel well-represented in Washington?

Ronni,

I read the Spending Bill--we skim it so you don't have to>

And have been trying to breathe. Their explanation regarding the retirement cuts made me really anxious for our whole country once again.

PENSIONS:
For the first time, the benefits of current retirees could be severely cut, part of an effort to save some of the nation’s most distressed pension plans. The change would alter 40 years of federal law and could affect millions of workers, many of them part of a shrinking corps of middle-income employees in businesses such as trucking, construction and supermarkets.

Then, our president signed the damn bill—when there is "compromise" and all the benefits go to
one side—it is robbery. It is underhanded and deceitful. It is NOT democracy and it certainly isn't "compromise".

AARP should be raising its head and hand to help
us with this debacle, for surely there is a need for unifying and standing up.

Gotta stop now and breathe.

That post by me should have stated
the article was online and from the
Washington Post.

Breathing.

This is an underhanded, mean, unconsciencable idea.

Whatever happens in the USA usually filters over to Canada. I would fight this with my very last breath.

Millions of hard working Americans faithfully paid into their pension plans.

How do the legislators who bully these ideas into laws even sleep at night or face themselves in the mirror?

That should be..

Unconscionable idea.

Oh my. Once again I blame my poor spelling on my tablet keyboard, and those bent dollar store stand-by glasses.

" ...Republicans, will try to cut Social Security and Medicare one way or another. We cannot trust President Barack Obama not to go along."

And I'm afraid the same holds true for Hillary if she manages to slip in there in 2016.

I feel like I am seeing the rise and fall of the American Empire. We are on the fast track of the "fall".

We are destroying the planet and it's inhabitants, with the exception of the obscenely wealthy. And when the "little people" are destroyed the privileged few will find too late that their money is worthless.

This blog today reminds me of another book - Dickens' A Christmas Carol, especially the passage in which Scrooge refuses to make a donation when approached by two men who are collecting to provide for the poor at the holidays. He suggests that those unable to provide for themselves should die and decrease the surplus population. I always thought that this is a horror that we would never see in this country. I'm no longer so sure. Last weekend I saw television show on HGTV featuring dream homes that people had built costing tens of millions of dollars and more. Most featured incredibly complicated security systems and other technology. Some of them are unoccupied for several months of each year. It chips away at any faith in the future.

The debate about pensions has been going on in my home state of Illinois, which I believe is now the state most in trouble in this regard. We have a new Republican governor coming in next month. I think a lot of people are holding their breath here, too.

Debate has also been very lively in the city in which I live; in fact, it's difficult to remember a time when it wasn't constantly in the local news. Our mayor, since the beginning of his first term in 2005, has been trying to cut union participation and railing against the cost of pensions to the city. Debate about such things as the number of firefighters on a truck, and keeping service workers out of unions and limiting their benefits, goes on ad nauseam. Our city has high poverty, unemployment and crime, with low levels of education, literacy, and participation in civic activities. But we have a huge number of churches and social services. Go figure.

Cathy Johnson, your last two sentences could be describing Fresno California. I keep thinking we are the worst of the worse, then I read a comment like yours that makes me wonder about the rest of the nation.

What a bummer. I awoke this morning feeling pretty good about the day. Now you go and tell me that there is a likelihood that my meager SS and Medicare may be cut. This means that the only hope I have for a decent future is to die before my Social security or pension runs dry.Nice choice.

It's immoral and ought to be illegal to touch in any way the pension plans (or Social Security) of those already retired or close to retiring. Those plans should be sacrosanct, untouchable, immutable. If a company decides they can't afford them, then the company should take the hit, not the retirees who have neither the years nor the employability necessary to make up the losses. The money in those plans belongs to the people who paid into them, not the companies that run them. The companies, of course, think otherwise.

It seems to me the senators and congressmen and women will still get their pensions, big ones at that..How do they think people who paid into those pensions will feel going hungry it could have been their parents since the age of sone of those senators and congresspeople are right about the age that baby boomers could have been their parents? Where is the humanity in all of this doesn't the USA the richest country in the whole world think that people who paid into a pension for 30 plus years deserve to get it?????? Shame on them, my hubs pension is telling us lots to scare us my hubs goes to the union meetings & he says they say something else. I only wish my hubs could have retired 10 full years earlier it might have saved his back from all the misery he has now and he would have enjoyed some semblance of the money he paid into his pension..I get a govt. pension not a lot but some and I have saved like a scrooge for years!

I now suspect our only hope is that the millennials and 30-40 somethings wake up and realize that these cuts to the financial stability of America's elders will mean millions of us will now have to move in with or be supported primarily by our children and grandchildren. Perhaps they have not yet considered that aspect of all this?

Lower taxes sound nice until the chilling reality of living with your parents for decades sets in!

"But we have a huge number of churches"--churches have become corporations, businesses that are interested in those who have monies. Pastors have become CEOs.

"Social service organizations" are taxpayer funded and subject to budget cuts by the municipal governments.

"Lower taxes will not be for those who are in the workforce, except for those in the corporations management and corporations themselves, and, of course those in congress who do not have many services they have to pay for out of pocket.

And the taxes will rise for property, food, gas,
(my state has a tax on "unnecessary items" (books,
magazines, greeting cards, candies, etc.)

Some of you might be interested in the book by
Hedrick Smith "Who Stole the American Dream?"

Here's a quote from Smith's lecture to the NH AFL-CIO about his book:

Stakeholder Capitalism vs. Shareholder Capitalism
There are two very different perspectives about how a business should be run.  On one hand there is the view best described by Henry Ford—that a company is there to produce something, and pay people a wage high enough that they could become your customers.  This is commonly referred to as ‘Stakeholder Capitalism’. “There is one rule for the industrialist and that is: Make the best quality of goods possible at the lowest cost possible, paying the highest wages possible.” –Henry Ford
On the other hand, there is the current business philosophy that companies are only there to make their owners and shareholders money.  This is called ‘Shareholder Capitalism’. ‘Shareholder Capitalism’ has led to the decline of the middle class.

I wanted to let you know that I download the interview with Dave Delaney. Great!

I wonder how all the old folks who voted Republican are going to spin this?

Scary times.

I think we're going to have to fight for our rights - what with Republicans taking over the House.

I guess most of us have been operating under the delusion that our pensions were somehow sacrosanct. But we now live in a social system in which the rich are not satisfied with most of the money. They want it all. Wealth inequality in this country is not just unfair, it is obscene! As for the American Enterprise Institute "scholar," I must be managing my money wrong because I am both a pensioner (plus SS) AND a taxpayer. So GFY, Mr. Pollock.

Like Cathy, I am appalled at the obscenely rich home builders on HGTV---and remembering Romney's 4 or 5 homes---but that same HGTV now has a new series which is all about "tiny houses" of less than 200 square feet. I wonder if they're trying to tell us something about the future housing of the proletariat.

One last word to Larry: what do you think will happen if Romney or Christie or Bush manages to "slip in there" in 2016? President Obama has had to do some things that I'm sure he didn't want to do and I have had my criticisms of him, too. But never in all my nearly 80 years have I seen anything like the hate and malice he has had to contend with just to achieve the smallest accomplishments. So I'm inspired to say today, "Bravo, Mr. Obama" for restoring diplomatic relations (and travel) between the U.S. and Cuba. It was a long time coming and none of your predecessors had the intelligence or guts to do it. -Meg

WHERE IS THE transparency here? "SLIPPED IN" doesn't sound like due process to me. It sounds like rape in the dead of night, merry xmas!

WHO (one person's name) slipped it in? If every single addition/amendment were time/date/author-stamped that would square with what corporations do. It's called accountability.... and it is ROUTINE to be able to store who changed what and when.

It's about time Congress starts rigorously keeping track of what the hell they are doing. It's called DUE PROCESS.

How has it come to pass that congress behaves like a little private club? Don't get me started --- :-(

I SO agree with Meg about the obscenely wealthy homebuilders and the sheer vitriolic hatred that President Obama has had to endure for his entire 8 years in office. The apologists for the 1% almost make the conservative "death panels" look like a viable alternative! What the H&*# are people in their 70s, 80s and 90s--who can't work any more or couldn't get hired even if they are still able to work-- supposed to do? Die already?

I also agree with "Pamela in NC". Without adequate pensions, and especially if S/S is cut, millennials WILL end up supporting their parents in old age! Except, of course, if their parents are members of Congress, whose cushy pensions are guaranteed--by taxpayers, whose aren't! Where's the justice in that?

I probably won't be around to see what happens when ordinary Americans wake up to what is happening and the Revolution comes, but it won't be pretty. And 2 years (at minimum) of Republican domination of Congress will only speed it along, in my view. Hmmm, maybe I will still be around, after all. . .

One more thing: I'm 78 and just lost my job at the nonprofit where I've worked for almost 40 years. I'm not exactly a slacker or one of those infamous Mitt Romney "takers". A New Regime had other plans, and they didn't include me. (I realize that in today's world I was lucky to hold a job as far into my 70s as I did.)

Nonprofits rarely offer pensions and mine was no exception. We had a 403(b) plan, which I appreciate. However, most nonprofit salaries are significantly below those of government and the private sector, so it's hard to save enough for what was once a middle class retirement. On top of that, savings and low-risk investments grow very slowly, and we can't afford to take on additional risk. S/S is SO important and must be protected for all of us.

Thanks a million for joining me on the show, Ronni. You're awesome and inspiring. Thank you for doing what you do!

One of the most egregious acts of our
government has been the changing of the meanings of words. Torture has become"enhanced interrogation" or "harsh" methods". Making it worse, news reporters have fallen into line and substituted our Newspeak for the true words.

The "Atlantic" had a long article "What's the Matter with Kansas?" not too long ago which examines the issue
Ronni bemoans, as do I.

Too many, maybe most, of our so-called representatives, spend most of their time fund raising and cuddling with the lobbyists for the 1 %. Who could believe the word of any politician of any party? I know I don't.

I'm old enough to remember when the US was not reviled by much of the world. When most of our legislators actually worked for the common good.Now I wear a Maple Leaf when traveling.

And emmajay, your words are all too true.

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