The retirement crisis is anything but imaginary. According to research conducted by Professor Teresa Ghilarducci, head of the Department of Economics at the New School in New York City, only 44% of workers in the United States have access to a retirement plan at work. Except for workers with defined benefit plans, most middle class U.S. workers will not have adequate retirement income — 55% of near-retirees will only have Social Security income at age 65.
A labor economist, Ghilarducci’s work focuses on the need to restore the promise of retirement for every American worker. Her research documents the many problems people now face in planning for retirement: decreasing coverage and contributions, increasing investment risk, portability, leakage, high fees, and the drawdown of benefits in retirement. This body of work led her to put forth a bold reform idea – the creation of Guaranteed Retirement Accounts (GRAs) – to provide a secure retirement to an additional 63 million people. This of course goes against the prevailing trend in our government’s treatment of pensions, particularly public pensions, which governors have persistently raided to avoid the more politically unpalatable option of raising taxes to support the viability of these plans. As she discusses in the interview below, she issues a clarion call for policy makers and political leaders to find a way to save retirement, “a necessary- if now threatened – feature of civilized societies.” As Ghilarducci eloquently notes, all people – rich AND poor – deserve a decent retirement income after a long working life. Are our leaders up to the challenge?