Retirement Benefits for U.S. Workers Decline

   (BUSINESS WIRE) - 8/1/2010 - U.S. workers saw the value of their employer-sponsored retirement benefits -- as measured by percentage of pay -- decline by double-digit levels over a 10-year period ending in 2008, according to an analysis of eight major industries conducted by Towers Watson (NYSE, NASDAQ: TW), a global professional services company. A decrease in the value of defined benefit (DB) plans fueled the overall drop, although an increase in the value of defined contribution (DC) plans somewhat offset the total decline.
   “In the last few years, both the financial crisis and the Pension Protection Action of 2006 have been factors contributing to employers’ careful examination of their retirement plan strategies. The financial crisis also provided a wake-up call for employers to reevaluate their 401(k) plans, as their employees’ balances plummeted.”
   The Towers Watson analysis found that, from 1998 to 2008, the value of total retirement benefits provided to new, salaried employees in the eight industries studied declined by 19 percent, from 7.88 percent to 6.36 percent of pay. Total retirement benefits include DB and DC plans, retiree medical and retiree life insurance plans. The overall decline in total retirement benefits was mostly due to a 53 percent drop in the value of defined benefits, from 4.19 percent of pay in 1998 to 1.99 percent in 2008. DC benefits, meanwhile, increased by 38 percent, from 2.89 percent of pay in 1998 to 3.99 percent in 2008.
   “Virtually all employers were under pressure to reduce the cost and risk of their company-sponsored retirement benefits during the years analyzed,” said Kevin Wagner, senior retirement consultant at Towers Watson. “However, just how much they changed their programs and what level of support they could provide varied significantly based on industry-specific factors, including talent supply, cost structure and globalization.”
   According to the analysis, the largest decline in total retirement benefits from 1998 to 2008 occurred in the retail and wholesale industry -- a drop of 33 percent, from 5.72 percent of pay to 3.82 percent. Among the eight industries analyzed, only service industry workers saw the value of their retirement benefits increase — from 4.16 percent of pay to 4.30 percent of pay, an increase of 3 percent.
   According to the analysis, the largest drop in the value of DB benefits from 1998 to 2008 occurred in the retail industry (81 percent), which, along with the service industries, also provided the lowest level of defined benefits at the end of the period. The value of DC benefits increased for all of the industries analyzed, led by the pharmaceuticals and health care industries, which experienced increases of 97 percent and 87 percent, respectively.
   “This past decade witnessed a significant shift in retirement plans, as many companies replaced their traditional DB plans with DC and other account-based retirement plans for new workers,” Wagner said. “In the last few years, both the financial crisis and the Pension Protection Action of 2006 have been factors contributing to employers’ careful examination of their retirement plan strategies. The financial crisis also provided a wake-up call for employers to reevaluate their 401(k) plans, as their employees’ balances plummeted.”

Photo by Steve Rensberry (c) 2014