Should state government offer a retirement plan for private citizens?

State government should offer a retirement plan to the increasing number of people whose companies don't provide a pension or a 401(k) savings program, labor groups and other advocates this week told a legislative panel.

The Labor and Public Employees Committee has raised a bill that would create a task force to study that concept and report back when the 2013 General Assembly session convenes next January.

"Much of our membership is fortunate enough to have defined-benefit pensions, largely because we were able to fight for them at the bargaining table," Salvatore Luciano, a veteran state employee union leader, told legislators Tuesday. But in the private sector, "this is a sacred part of the American dream that we are losing."

Luciano, the longtime executive director of Council 4 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said, "I see family and friends forced to choose between money in their 401(k) and helping their children pay for college. I see family and friends putting off their retirements as the assets in their 401(k) were lost during the stock market crash."

The traditional American retirement income was based on three tiers: Social Security, employer-sponsored retirement plans and personal savings, said Lauren Schmitz, a research analyst with the Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis in New York.

"But the employer-sponsored retirement system is on the decline on several fronts," Schmitz testified, noting that a majority of employers offer no plan, with small and medium firms the least likely to provide one.

About 61 percent of employers nationwide sponsored plans in 2000, but just 53 percent did by 2010, she said, citing U.S. labor and census statistics. Over the same period in Connecticut, the percentage dropped from 64 percent to 58 percent.

"However, the retirement security crisis isn't just limited to the half of workers who don't participate" in retirement plans," said Robert Hiltonsmith, a policy analyst with Demos, a New York-based progressive policy organization. "Even many of those who are actively saving for retirement are at risk as well."

Hiltonsmith testified that many plan participants not only took a hit during the stock crash of the last recession, but also have insufficient savings to cover the rest of their lives.

The Pension Rights Center, a Washington, D.C.-based consumer organization, recommended that any state-administered plan should prohibit any early withdrawals or loans leveraged against participants' savings, and benefits should be paid out over retirees' remaining lifetime.

The bill raised for a hearing by the Labor committee does not endorse any particular concept.

But Sen. Edith G. Prague, D-Columbia, co-chairwoman of the committee, said that while there is much to learn, the concept is intriguing. "I think it sounds like a great idea," she said. "There are already many seniors who cannot manage with just their Social Security income, but they don't have a lot of other options."

The task group would study the availability of retirement plans and trends in retirement savings, as well as the projected needs of future retirees.

The measure would create an 11-member task force with representatives from the governor's budget office, other constitutional officers, the state Commission on Aging and experts in the field to be appointed by legislative leaders and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.

Comments

comments