The State of Retirement Security in the United States
This week is National Retirement Security Week. Everyyear this week is used by the financial industry to promote retirement savings through their products and services. While we applaud the goal of promoting adequate retirement savings for all Americans, the reality is that many working families are not saving at all and are woefully unprepared for retirement. So this year, we are flipping the script and talking about National Retirement (In)Security Week.
The unfortunate truth is that many Americans are not saving enough for retirement (if they are saving at all) and will fall behind their standard of living in retirement. And they know it. According to polling released earlier this year, 88% agree that the nation faces a retirement savings crisis and 76% are concerned about their own ability to retire with security and dignity.
Much of the problem stems from lack of access to a retirement savings plan through an employer. At any given time, roughly half of working Americans do not have a retirement savings plan through their job. The overwhelming majority of people do not save for retirement if they do not have a plan through their employer. Most of the money in IRA plans are rollovers from 401(k) plans, not money contributed directly to the IRA plan. Among those who do contribute directly to an IRA, most of them also have access to a retirement savings plan through their employer.
Among workers who do have a retirement savings plan at work, there has been a significant shift over the past three decades from defined benefit pensions to defined contribution 401(k)-style plans. According to the Center for Retirement Research, in 1983, 62% of workers had a traditional pension and only 12% had a 401(k)-style plan. By 2016, only 17% were covered by a pension and 73% participated solely in a defined contribution plan. This is a remarkable shift and has a real impact on people’s retirement security.
The Economic Policy Institute has crunched the numbers on the retirement savings crisis. Among all working age (ages 32 to 61) families, the median retirement savings amount was $5,000 in 2013. Looking only at working age families with savings accounts (since nearly half have no savings), the median amount increases to $60,000. While this is significantly more, it is nowhere close to what the typical worker will need to finance a secure retirement.
Additionally, retirement savings is highly skewed. High income families are ten times as likely to have any retirement savings as low income families. Also, high income families own a greater share of retirement savings than they do of earned income. The top 20% of income earners receive 63% of all income in the United States, but they control 74% of all retirement savings.
Finally, for all income levels and demographic groups, retirement income from 401(k)s, IRAs and other defined contribution plans do NOT represent a significant share of income. For all people age 65 and older, only 8% receive income in retirement through a defined contribution plan and the median amount received is $5,400. Even for seniors in the top 20%, this source of income accounts for just 12% of retirement income (no group receives more than 12%).
The reality is that retirement prospects have worsened for many working families since the Great Recession. The percentage of working Americans participating in any type of retirement plan has declined from a peak of 60% in 2001 to 53% in 2013. For many, their retirement savings amounts are lower now than they were in 2007, just before the financial crisis. As we discuss the importance of retirement security this week, it is critical to have a clear sense of where most Americans are today and the challenges that they face.
This is a guest post from the National Public Pension Coalition.
Imagine a state where voters never have to even wait in line or present a photo ID in order to get their ballot. Where bad weather, traffic jams, working late or child care duties never have to interfere with a citizen’s intent to exercise his or her democratic franchise.
A state where it’s the government’s obligation—if it knows a citizen is a registered voter—to deliver the ballot, not force the voter to go to a specific polling location or arrange for an absentee ballot.
Such a state is Oregon, where voters in 2000 approved by a more than 2-1 margin to create what can best be called a "Vote at Home" election system. Two other states—Washington and Colorado—have now adopted the same system, as have 21 of Utah’s 29 counties.
In Vote at Home systems, U.S. Postal Service letter carriers deliver a ballot to every active registered voter about two weeks before every election. Voters typically mark their ballots at home, then have the option of returning them by mail or taking them to any one of hundreds of ballot drop-sites around the state. Voters’ signatures on the return envelope are verified against voter registration cards before ballots can be counted, to ensure election integrity.
This week, former Oregon Secretary of State Phil Keisling will be in Washington, D.C., for an event the AFL-CIO is co-sponsoring with the National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC) to talk about the many benefits of Vote at Home elections. Voters strongly approve of the system; it saves millions in taxpayer dollars in reduced election costs; and, perhaps most important of all, it spurs significantly higher voter turnout, especially in midterm elections. Keisling will be joined by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who was elected in 1996 in the nation’s first-ever federal election that used this system.
As America’s working men and women look ahead to future elections, Vote at Home seems like a simple, common-sense reform with exceptional power to reinvigorate American democracy. Just recently, a new organization—National Vote at Home Coalition—was launched to help support such efforts as a Vote at Home ballot measure campaign that was recently launched by progressive activists in South Dakota. Other ballot measure efforts also are being discussed for several other states, as well as legislative efforts in several other states.
In 2016, an estimated 60 million already registered voters didn’t cast a ballot—and more than 100 million didn’t in 2014. Maybe it’s time to start relying on the genius of Benjamin Franklin—and the U.S. Postal Service he created nearly 250 years ago—to start fixing that.
As part of the response to the devastation in Puerto Rico, working people and United Airlines teamed up to fly more than 300 first responders and skilled volunteers to help with relief and rebuilding. The partnership was a response to an urgent request from Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz for highly skilled workers.
In response, Cruz said:
I will always remember and, most importantly, San Juan will never forget the sight of hope and redemption of brotherhood and sisterhood of more than 300 union brothers and sisters stepping out of their buses with open hearts to help those whose cry for help some have tried to dismiss and diminish. Your compassion, your skills, but most of all, your great heart has strengthened our bodies have rebuilt our buildings, but most of all has touched our souls. We know we are not alone, for we know the union movement will never forsake us....
Where there are problems to be fixed, you do not run away, you stand by us every step of the way....
You embody the true nature of the American spirit of compassion, ingenuity, and resilience....
Your presence here reassures us with our minds and with our hearts that all Puerto Ricans have seen that not only is it the right thing to do, but it is the path for the future. San Juan will never be able to pay the debt of gratitude, brotherhood, and sisterhood that will forever bond us together.
AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler said:
Last week, I joined more than 300 hardworking union men and women who volunteered to help their fellow U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico and flew with them to San Juan in an airplane operated in partnership with United Airlines.
Nurses, doctors, engineers, carpenters, electricians, truck drivers and working people from different backgrounds joined together in a heartbeat and responded to the recovery efforts. Since landing, they have been working around the clock to help devastated communities.
Whether delivering critical aid, restoring power or saving lives—they are real life heroes and they’re making a real difference. And we’re in it for the long haul.
I could not be more proud to be part of a movement alongside these selfless and brave working women and men. We are proud of their work and honored to have a few of them join us today to tell you their personal accounts.
Texas Unions Partner with Mayor Turner to Send Supplies to Puerto Rico
The Seafarers (SIU) union and other Houston-area unions organized a relief drive to collect supplies for Puerto Rican hurricane survivors.
Yesterday, leaders from the Texas labor movement joined together with Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner to load containers with vital supplies for a ship bound for Puerto Rico.
The Seafarers secured the shipping containers and organized with other local unions and the mayor’s office to collect materials being donated to Puerto Rican communities impacted by Hurricane Maria. Recent reports state that 85% of the island is still without electricity and 40% of the population still lack access to clean drinking water.
The cargo ship is delivering water, nonperishable food, toiletries, battery-powered electronics, mops, brooms and other desperately needed items to the Puerto Rico AFL-CIO in San Juan. The supplies will be shipped on the National Glory, a U.S.-flagged vessel owned and operated by National Shipping of America, that will be crewed by SIU members under the Jones Act. Plans to send more cargo to Puerto Rico are in the works.
"The labor movement is at its best when we work together during times of great need. We saw that here in Texas after Hurricane Harvey, and now we want to extend that help to Puerto Rico," said Zeph Capo, president of the Texas Gulf Coast Area Labor Federation.
Dean Corgey, vice president of the Gulf Coast Region of the Seafarers, said, "Mayor Turner has been a stalwart supporter of Houstonians and others harmed by hurricanes recently. We’re proud to be partnering with the mayor on this effort to bring aid to Puerto Rico."
Why the Best Protectors for Workers Are Other Workers
As concertgoers fled the mass shooting at the country music festival outside the Mandalay Bay in Clark County, Nev., at the end of the Las Vegas strip, dozens of off-duty fire fighters attending the concert sprang into action. Twelve were among the wounded by gunfire.
At the same time, more than 150 fire fighters and paramedics from Clark County Local 1908 and surrounding locals rushed to the scene to save lives, treat the wounded and help the survivors.
"Our members–including those attending the concert off duty–reacted as they always do," said IAFF General President Harold Schaitberger. "They put their training to work immediately, without hesitation and without regard for their own safety, making quick and difficult decisions on how best to save lives."
As the news of the unfolding tragedy flashed across the nation, the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) – the union representing more than 310,000 professional fire fighters and paramedics–also took action, reaching out to Clark County Local 1908 and other affiliates in the area to provide assistance.
On Monday morning after the shooting, Patrick Morrison–a retired Virginia fire fighter who heads the health and safety division at the IAFF, was on the phone with affiliates across the country to organize and mobilize experienced teams of peer support counselors and trauma specialists to help members involved in the response to the mass shooting. Within hours, he too was on a plane to Las Vegas.
"It’s easy to see a broken arm and treat it. It’s more difficult to see trauma to our brains or hearts," Morrison said. "Everyday, work for fire fighters and paramedics can be traumatic. Mass-casualty events can be much worse. We want to make sure our members understand the signs and symptoms of traumatic stress injuries, so we can treat them."
Many of the peer support counselors who arrived in Las Vegas have been through similar events. Some pulled bodies from the attack at the 2016 Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Fla., where 49 people were killed and 59 wounded. Others got a crash course in trauma from the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, or from the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012.
All of them brought their personal stories to Las Vegas to help their union brothers and sisters.
At the school shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, Col., Ray Rahne was a fire fighter who had responded like everyone else in his department. Afterwards, the Vietnam veteran, who is also a husband and father, would find himself crying at times. And he was skittish and jumpy.
"I would go from happy to depressed at the snap of the fingers. People started asking, ‘What’s going on?’ This went on for over a year. Finally, I thought, I don’t know. I’ve got to go see somebody," Rahne said.
Now retired from Littleton Fire and Rescue and a IAFF district vice president, Rahne got help and then joined his union’s growing movement to treat mental and emotional injuries to fire fighters, paramedics, and dispatchers.
Every week, we bring you a roundup of the top news and commentary about issues and events important to working families. Here’s this week’s Working People Weekly List.
NAFTA Negotiators Send Corporate Whiners Back to Swamp: "Giant corporations, loyal to coin and faithless to country, staged a public display of blubbering in the run up to this week’s fourth round of negotiations to revise the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)."
From the Mountains of Puerto Rico: 'We Won’t Have Electricity Up Here for at Least a Year': "Adela Fígaro wasn’t worried when high winds began to lash her home, high on a hill in Las Marias, an area in the west-central region of Puerto Rico. The Dominican Republic native, with a quick wit and a big smile, had been through other serious storms in her 30-plus years living deep in the mountains of the island, about 60 miles from San Juan, where much of the island’s coffee and fruit is grown."
SEC Asked to Probe Trades of Student Loan Firm Navient: "A series of well-timed trades in shares of student loan giant Navient Corp. immediately before the Labor Day holiday weekend, after which a critical Trump administration policy announcement was made public, spurred the AFL-CIO to request that federal securities regulators review what it labeled potential insider trading."
5 Things You Need to Know About TPS or Temporary Protected Status: "In a turbulent world, countries with more privilege have a powerful ability to protect people from countries experiencing crises such as war, natural disaster or ongoing violence and prevent them from returning to conditions that could cost them their lives. Since 1990, the United States has allowed more than 300,000 immigrants from such countries to live and work here under Temporary Protected Status."
What Working People Are Saying About the Janus Supreme Court Case: "The U.S. Supreme Court has granted certiorari in the case Janus v. AFSCME Council 31, meaning the court will hold a hearing and make a ruling on the case. The case started with the billionaire governor of Illinois, Bruce Rauner, attempting to undercut the voice of public service workers through the courts. Janus is part of a broader strategy by corporate-funded organizations like the State Policy Network, which admits that the whole point of Janus is to strike a 'mortal blow' and 'defund and defang' unions. Working people are speaking out against these attempts to use the courts to attack their rights."
World Day for Decent Work: Immigrant Protections Essential for Achieving Decent Work: "Oct. 7 marks the 10th annual World Day for Decent Work, a day when unions across the globe mobilize for decent work. In local events, workers highlight issues of corporate greed, low wages, inequality and injustice. In the United States, immigrant workers and communities are under attack as the Donald Trump administration threatens some of the few protections available to immigrants in vulnerable circumstances. This undermines decent work and the ability of all working people to come together to assert their rights on the job."
Miners Working with Congress to Solve Pension Crisis: "Strong bipartisan legislation has been introduced in recent congressional sessions to solve the pension crisis currently facing America's mine workers. The Miners Protection Act is a response to a growing insolvency problem with the Mine Workers (UMWA) 1974 Pension Plan. The legislation would protect the pensions of 87,000 current beneficiaries and 20,000 more who have vested for their pensions but have not yet begun drawing them. We've waited too long to see this problem addressed, and Congress should act now."
Working People Need Fair Currency Rules in #NAFTA: "One of the reasons that so-called U.S. 'trade' deals (such as the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA) should really be called 'offshoring' deals is that they do not contain any enforceable restrictions on currency misalignment and manipulation. Without such restrictions, countries can game the value of their currency to gain a trade advantage that provides corporations an incentive to strip jobs and wages from the U.S."
Working Families Respond to Mass Shooting in Nevada: "After yet another mass shooting last night, this time in Las Vegas, working families and their allies responded to the tragic evening. Below are their responses. Steve Sisolak, chair of Clark County Commission in Las Vegas, has set up a GoFundMe page to collect donations to aid the victims and their families. Please visit the Las Vegas Victims' Fund and contribute what you can."
5 Things You Need to Know About TPS or Temporary Protected Status
In a turbulent world, countries with more privilege have a powerful ability to protect people from countries experiencing crises such as war, natural disaster or ongoing violence and prevent them from returning to conditions that could cost them their lives. Since 1990, the United States has allowed more than 300,000 immigrants from such countries to live and work here under Temporary Protected Status.
Anti-immigrant groups are pushing the administration to end TPS status, which would strip away work authorization from hardworking men and women and risk sending them back into harm's way. Although we hear a lot about the refugee program, too little is known about TPS. Here are five things working people need to know about this important program:
1. TPS immigrants receive provisional protection against deportation and temporary permission to work in the United States. The majority of current TPS holders have been working in and contributing to our communities for more than 15 years. They pay taxes, join unions, own homes and raise families.
2. TPS status for each country must be renewed at least every 18 months, and each time workers renew their permits they undergo a new security screening.
3. In all, more than 320,000 people from 10 countries are at risk of losing protected status in 2018. El Salvador leads the way with nearly 200,000 people, followed by Honduras and Haiti, as countries with the largest population to be affected. Other TPS countries include Nepal, Nicaragua, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
4. TPS designations are made based on extreme circumstances that persist. Sudan, for instance, is still under a State Department travel advisory that warns travelers not to visit the country because of ongoing risks of terrorism, armed conflict and violent crime. Haiti is in turmoil after being hit not only with a devastating earthquake, but by a massive cholera epidemic and multiple category 4 hurricanes.
5. The AFL-CIO opposes this attack on working people. Failure to renew TPS will actively harm our economy, our communities and our unions. We want more working people to have rights on the job, not fewer.
What Working People Are Saying About the Janus Supreme Court Case
The U.S. Supreme Court has granted certiorari in the case Janus v. AFSCME Council 31, meaning the court will hold a hearing and make a ruling on the case. The case started with the billionaire governor of Illinois, Bruce Rauner, attempting to undercut the voice of public service workers through the courts. Janus is party of a broader strategy by corporate-funded organizations like the State Policy Network, which admits that the whole point of Janus is to strike a "mortal blow" and "defund and defang" unions. Working people are speaking out against these attempts to use the courts to attack their rights. Here's what they are saying:
Stephen Mittons, AFSCME Council 31 member, child protection investigator for the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services:
My work as a child protection investigator for the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services is vital to the safety of our state’s most vulnerable children and families. This court case is yet another political attack on the freedom of my colleagues and I to speak up to ensure that we can safely and adequately manage our caseloads, which reflects our commitment to safety and public service to our communities.
Jeff Price, AFT Local 3 member, teacher at Central High School, School District of Philadelphia:
My union just went through a lengthy contract fight in Philadelphia. We had to fight hard to protect our students’ basic needs, such as having at least one nurse and counselor in each school and ensuring that kids had necessary textbooks and materials. And we had to fight back against the district's desire to eliminate class sizes and get lead testing for the school's water fountains. Most people assume that the union only fights for teachers' rights, when in reality, most of our contract is there to protect the basic rights and needs of our students. Those rights are at grave risk in Janus.
Sonya Shpilyuk, NEA member, high school English teacher, Montgomery County, Maryland:
More and more, the economy is working against working people, including the families whose children I teach. My union gives me a voice and a seat at the table to advocate for my students, my colleagues and my community.
Edna Logan, SEIU Local 99 member, custodian at Esteban Torres School, Los Angeles Unified School District:
By sticking together in our union, we've lifted the wage floor to a $15 minimum wage, protected and expanded health care benefits for our families, and won more funding for our schools. Together, we’ll continue to fight to ensure all students have the support and services they need to succeed in school. That’s why the extremists are attacking us, to stop our progress. But we plan to stick together no matter what and keep standing up for quality public services.
Lee Saunders, president, AFSCME:
This case is yet another example of corporate interests using their power and influence to launch a political attack on working people and rig the rules of the economy in their own favor. When working people are able to join strong unions, they have the strength in numbers they need to fight for the freedoms they deserve, like access to quality health care, retirement security and time off work to care for a loved one. The merits of the case and 40 years of Supreme Court precedent and sound law are on our side. We look forward to the Supreme Court honoring its earlier rulings.
Randi Weingarten, president, AFT:
Unions are all about fighting for and caring about people—and in the public sector that includes those we represent and those we protect and teach in communities across America. Yet corporations, wealthy interests and politicians have manufactured Janus as part of their long and coordinated war against unions. Their goal is to further weaken workers’ freedom to join together in a union, to further diminish workers’ clout.
These powerful interests want to gut one of the last remaining checks on their control—a strong and united labor movement that fights for equity and opportunity for all, not just the privileged few. And under the guise of the First Amendment, they want to overturn a 40-year precedent that’s been reaffirmed numerous times. In other words, this would be a radical departure from well-established law. We believe that after resolving a similar case last year, the Supreme Court erred in granting cert in Janus, and that the trumped-up underpinnings of the plaintiff’s argument will rapidly become clear before the full bench.
Lily Eskelsen García, president, NEA:
For decades, corporate CEOs and the wealthy have fought to enrich themselves at the expense of the rights and pocketbooks of working people, and that harms families in communities across the country. As the nation’s largest union, we know this fight will not only impact the lives of educators, but it also impacts the families of the children we educate. We won’t back down from this fight and we will always stand up to support working people, our students and the communities we serve.
Mary Kay Henry, president, SEIU:
The anti-worker extremists behind this case want to divide working people, make it harder to pool our resources and limit our collective power. But SEIU members won't let any court case stand in our way of sticking together for good jobs and strong communities.
A statement from the four biggest public sector unions (AFSCME, AFT, NEA and SEIU):
The Janus case is a blatantly political and well-funded plot to use the highest court in the land to further rig the economic rules against everyday working people. The billionaire CEOs and corporate interests behind this case, and the politicians who do their bidding, have teamed up to deliver yet another attack on working people by striking at the freedom to come together in strong unions. The forces behind this case know that by joining together in strong unions, working people are able to win the power and voice they need to level the economic and political playing field. However, the people behind this case simply do not believe that working people deserve the same freedoms they have: to negotiate a fair return on their work.
World Day for Decent Work: Immigrant Protections Essential for Achieving Decent Work
Oct. 7 marks the 10th annual World Day for Decent Work, a day when unions across the globe mobilize for decent work. In local events, workers highlight issues of corporate greed, low wages, inequality and injustice. In the United States, immigrant workers and communities are under attack as the Donald Trump administration threatens some of the few protections available to immigrants in vulnerable circumstances. This undermines decent work and the ability of all working people to come together to assert their rights on the job.
The Trump administration has announced that it will end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which will strip away work authorization from nearly 800,000 productive members of our society. Further, the administration is currently assessing if it will recertify Temporary Protected Status (TPS), a designation that protects some 330,000 people who fled war, natural disaster and instability and allows them the opportunity to rebuild their lives in the U.S. Ten countries in all currently have TPS designation: El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nepal, Nicaragua, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen. The labor movement will work tirelessly to defend these important protections.
DACA and TPS holders are our co-workers, union sisters and brothers, and neighbors. Tens of thousands work in industries such as hospitality, construction, food processing, education and retail. They are leaders in our unions and communities. Many have lived in the U.S. for decades. Many fear returning home.
The longtime failure of Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform and create a pathway to citizenship for millions of hardworking immigrants has created a crisis in which one out of 20 workers in our country lacks formal work authorization. Rather than expanding rights and protections to this population, the Trump administration is expanding the pool of vulnerable workers in our labor force. The resulting threat of deportations weakens our unions and labor rights for all workers.
The entire workforce will suffer if these working people are stripped of their rights and status. The labor movement strongly condemns the efforts to criminalize immigrant communities. Instead of deporting immigrants, we need to ensure that all working people have rights on the job and are able to exercise them without fear of retaliation.
On World Day for Decent Work, we must hold the line on workplace rights and defend these important protections. A future of decent work, equality and shared prosperity is only possible if all workers are free to join together regardless of where they came from. Call on lawmakers today to defend DACA and TPS by signing our petition.
The Economy Loses 33,000 Jobs in September, and Unemployment Was Little Changed at 4.2%
The U.S. economy lost 33,000 jobs in September, and unemployment was little changed at 4.2%, according to figures released this morning by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The decline likely reflects the impact of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.
In response to the September jobs numbers, AFL-CIO Chief Economist William Spriggs tweeted:
Last month's biggest job gains were in health care (23,000), transportation and warehousing (22,000), financial activities (10,000), and professional and business services (13,000). Employment in food services and drinking places dropped sharply in September (-105,000) and manufacturing (-1,000) also saw a decline. Employment in other major industries, including mining, construction, wholesale trade, retail trade, information and government, showed little change over the month.
Among the major worker groups, the unemployment rates for teenagers (12.9%), blacks (7.0%), Hispanics (5.1%), adult men (3.9%), adult women (3.9%), Asians (3.7%) and whites (3.7%) showed little or no change in September.
The number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more) was down slightly in September and accounted for 25.5% of the unemployed.