Over the last few years a wealth of information has been presented in the media and from think tanks and elsewhere that deal with the changing face of the workplace. More and more we read and we hear from our family members, friends or associates that they fear that they won’t be able to retire. They won’t be able to retire because they cannot afford to do so.

Why is that the case?

There is a plague spreading throughout America. That plague will wreak havoc and cause much upheaval in our social, political and economic affairs for several generations. The plague will disable some retirees from living in comfort during their old age. It will go down in history as the era of the failure of retirement income security for many Americans.
There are  some very frightening statistics that play out  in this potential horror story today.

In one survey by the Employee Benefits Research Institute (EBRI), only 42% of workers try to calculate a budget before going into retirement. Many Americans do not know how much money they will need in retirement. This lack of preparation will put so many people at risk as they are nearing retirement.

Years ago, the advice that was given to workers to consider in their preparation for retirement was commonly referred to as the “three-legged stool;” namely, how much did an individual anticipant receiving in retirement from 1.) an employer-provided defined benefit plan; (2.) from their personal savings; and (3.) from Social Security.

Financial advisors tell us that if your not covered by a retiree health care program then you need to have saved $250,000.

For a comfortable retirement those advisors say that you should save a total of 22 times the annual income you want to earn when you retire. So if you want $100,000 in annual income (not counting Social Security) than your number is $2.2 million in total retirement savings.

These numbers are unrealistic for the average American worker.

So as a result, all bets are off. The percentage of workers covered by employer sponsored defined benefit plans is at an all-time low: some  12%. Personal savings were hammered both by workers’ diminished and declining wages and their resulting inability to save, in addition to the debilitating impact on personal savings as well as the erosion of the value of their homes that was caused by the financial crisis of 2008.

If the right-wing crazies in Congress get their way they will do everything they can to dampen down Social Security benefits. If they are successful then the three-legged stool will virtually have been totally destroyed.

Today , some 75% of those near retirement have, on average, $27,000 in their 401(k) plan, the typical replacement for the Defined Benefit plan. The average assets in a 401(k) plan across all age groups nationwide is $84,000.

Those kinds of numbers guarantee that people without substantial wealth will not be able to retire comfortably.

All in all, we are facing a retirement crisis of major proportions. And don’t sit back and think that your pension plan is safe and secure from an attack. Throughout America, some conservative city officials and elitist plutocrats are fashioning an approach to make the defined benefit plan a thing of the past.

Recently, the judge, overseeing the bankruptcy of the City of Detroit, issued his decision that the retirees and employees covered by the city’s pension plans were not protected by the state constitution. The net result of that decision has established a policy that employee and retiree benefits can be reduced as a methodology to deal with the budgetary constraints of the city. The employees and retirees of cities and counties that are on the brink of potential bankruptcy could face this possibility.

Benefits that have  been hard fought for by unions are in the danger zone and there is no safe haven.

Those supporting the erosion of defined benefit pension plans in the public sector are sitting on the sidelines applauding the judge’s decision and are looking at the next city facing potential bankruptcy.

Private sector defined benefit  pension plans have been destroyed by their corporate sponsors beginning in 1981 and they have diminished with the help of Congress. The motive of political leaders today, in conjunction with a cadre of right-wing billionaires, is to destroy the retirement system of all workers who are in the public sector.

This crisis will have such a horrendous impact on our society that I have visions of elderly people living under bridges and along the highways, byways and railways of America. Especially, when a large proportion of the children of these potential retirees are ill-prepared  themselves to provide financial support to their parents.

Public and private sector unions must band together to do whatever they can, in spite of this being late in the game, to protect and preserve a retirement system that could be destroyed. Just think about what life will look like when an entire generation of potential of retirees cannot afford to retire. It will not be a pretty picture.

The late author James Baldwin was quoted as saying that…. “The most dangerous creation of any society is the man (or woman ) who has nothing to lose .”

Our civil society faces the potential of millions of folks who have nothing to lose. What do you think our world will look like if they decided to fight the system?

We have so many bright and talented people in our midst that we should take this potential problem disguised as retirement income in-security and turn it around to make it an opportunity for change for the betterment of all. This is an issue that confronts all working Americans.

Source: Thomas J. Mackell, Jr., Ed.D.
Senior Consultant
International Longshoremen’s Association, AFL-CIO