Benefits Pro
September 3, 2013

The United States might be able to learn a few things from other countries when it comes to improving workers’ retirement security.

That’s the upshot from a report from the National Institute on Retirement Security, “Lessons for Private Sector Retirement Security from Australia, Canada, and the Netherlands,” which found that other countries have tackled their retirement savings crisis through a combination of social security and employer-sponsored retirement systems.

Because guaranteed defined benefit pension plans have been going away, U.S. workers increasingly must rely on their own savings to get them through retirement, which has resulted in heightened retirement insecurity for a majority of Americans. [EXPAND Read more]

Australia, Canada and the Netherlands don’t expect their workers to shoulder the entire burden of retirement. Instead, they have developed retirement income systems that are regularly recognized for their adequacy, sustainability and integrity.

All three countries provide relatively higher retirement income for low- and middle-wage workers through their social security and universal/quasi-universal employer plans combined than does the U.S.

In Australia and the Netherlands, universal or quasi-universal employer-sponsored programs provide a substantial supplement to social security income.

Australia’s universal workplace retirement system, the Superannuation Guarantee, is a DC system in which workers bear investment risk individually. The difference is that this system is based largely on nearly universal coverage and high mandatory employer contributions, which are now a gross 9 percent of pay (7.65 percent net after taxes) and will rise incrementally to a gross 12 percent of pay by 2019.

Netherland’s defined benefit system, funded primarily by employers, is the centerpiece of a national retirement income system that provides some of the highest income replacement rates among wealthy nations. Employers there are shifting market and longevity risks toward employees through the increased use of hybrid plans, but employees bear those risks as a group and inter-generationally, not as individuals, according to NIRS.

Canada offers a voluntary DB-centered employer-sponsored retirement benefit system with lower coverage than the other two countries in this study, but it is a highly progressive, two-part social security system that replaces over 70 percent of lifetime average wage-indexed earnings for low-income workers and about 50 percent for median-income workers.

All three countries studied have programs that are similar to the Social Security system in the United States, but theirs are means-tested, so the programs provide more for lower- and middle-income individuals than high-income workers. [/EXPAND]