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AARP Bulletin Survey: Many Workers Fear Pension, Health Care Benefit Reductions

Sobering Picture as AARP-EBRI Convene Major Pension Conference

Forty percent of adults interviewed in an AARP Bulletin national survey said they feared their employer or their spouses employer would reduce or eliminate pension or health care benefits in the future. And the survey shows that the future is now for many of those workers or spouses.

A large number in the same survey group told the Bulletin poll that their employer already either has eliminated their traditional defined benefit pension (10 percent), changed the pension into a defined contribution plan such as a 401(k) (15 percent) or frozen or reduced traditional pension benefits (nine percent).

And the survey showed that a whopping 44 percent of those surveyed—a national total of 965 workers or spouses—had had their health care benefits reduced in the past five years, for example, by requiring a higher co-pay.

These are some of the major advance findings from a retirement planning survey scheduled to be released in the June and July issues of the Bulletin. In total, the telephone survey, conducted in April, involved 1,880 working and retired households.

Release of the sobering poll results came as AARP, in conjunction with the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI), co hosted a one-day conference today (May 15) in Washington, DC that pursued the question: "The Employment-Based Pension System: Evolution or Revolution?"

The conference was called against a backdrop of employers moving away from the traditional pension system and with half of all Americans without any employer-sponsored pensions at all. A cross-section of experts—representing many of the major players in the pension debate—evaluated the changing face of pensions and personal savings with an eye toward potential long-term solutions to help more Americans achieve financial security in retirement.

In his opening remarks, AARP CEO Bill Novelli challenged the participants to put their deliberations over the employment-based pension system in a broad context.

"We can’t do this in a vacuum," Novelli said. "We also have to recognize that employment-based pensions are only one part of our system of retirement income security."

"At AARP, we believe that retirement security must be built on four pillars: Social Security, pensions and savings combined, health insurance and continued earnings from work," he added.

Novelli added that the question is not one of evolution or revolution—it is both. He said there is no question that the pension system has evolved, but he said that "it’s equally clear that we need a revolution in the country to get people to save more for their retirement."

In the closing remarks, AARP Policy Director John Rother noted the consensus among panelists at the event that the employer-based pension system has been undergoing "profound changes" and predicted that "even more rapid change is clearly on the way."

Referring to short-term solutions, Rother pointed up the need for passage of pension legislation pending in a Senate-House Conference and emphasized the importance of finding ways of bringing in the approximately 40 percent of the labor force which is not currently contributing to 401(k)s.

He said a promising option would be to legislate the automatic enrollment provisions which have been advanced by AARP, as well as by other public policy institutions, including Heritage Foundation and the Brookings Institution.

AARP is a nonprofit, nonpartisan membership organization that helps people 50+ have independence, choice and control in ways that are beneficial and affordable to them and society as a whole. We produce AARP The Magazine, published bimonthly; AARP Bulletin, our monthly newspaper; AARP Segunda Juventud, our bimonthly magazine in Spanish and English; NRTA Live & Learn, our quarterly newsletter for 50+ educators; and our website, AARP Foundation is an affiliated charity that provides security, protection, and empowerment to older persons in need with support from thousands of volunteers, donors, and sponsors. We have staffed offices in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

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