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PBGC Blog: Retirement Matters
ERISA at 40 – The past puts pension law in perspective

Photo provided courtesy of Drexel University's Earle Mack School of Law

From the Pension Rights Center:

The Employee Retirement Income Security Act ("ERISA"), the law governing private retirement plans, has changed quite a bit since it was signed into law in 1974. There have been numerous amendments, court cases, regulatory actions and other developments. ERISA has had such an impact on Americans' everyday lives that it has become a field of law unto itself.

ERISA buffs frequently come together to explore the law as it is now and to discuss how it impacts current and future retirees. But an in-depth exploration of ERISA's past is a much rarer occurrence. On October 25, 2013, lawyers, actuaries, and other professionals from all corners of the pension world gathered in Philadelphia for a unique, day-long discussion of the history behind the law. The topic? ERISA at 40 - What Were They Thinking? An Oral History of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act.*

The symposium, hosted by Drexel University's Earle Mack School of Law and co-sponsored by the Pension Rights Center and the American College of Employee Benefits Counsel, was organized by Norman Stein and James Wooten. Norman Stein is a Drexel University law professor and PRC Senior Policy Advisor and James Wooten is a professor at SUNY Buffalo Law School and author of The Employee Retirement Security Act of 1974: A Political History. Participants in the symposium represented a Who's Who of ERISA, including Assistant Secretary of Labor of the Employee Benefits Security Administration, Phyllis Borzi, and J. Mark Iwry, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Treasury for Retirement and Health Policy. The symposium also featured several individuals with ties to the Pension Rights Center: PRC Board members Dan Halperin, Regina Jefferson, and Ian Lanoff; Fellows Dianne Bennett, Bill Bortz, Frank Cummings, Bob Nagle, and Henry Rose; and PRC's Director, Karen Ferguson.

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Janell Muhammed

By Janell Muhammad
Social Media Specialist

As PBGC takes part in National Save for Retirement Week, one employee reflects on the generation gap between Boomers and XYs in the quest for a secure retirement.


Working always has been a privilege and an honor for me. From the moment I was legally able, which in my case was the age of 13, I have held a job. As part of my duties, I have perfected the ice cream cone, salted McDonald's world-famous French fries, and advised young ladies on wardrobe choices at Loft. Whether part-time or full-time, after school or on the weekends, as a teenager, work kept me busy.

Today, I work for an agency focused on retirement. Considering the people we serve at PBGC, I pondered what it meant beyond being a federal employee.

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Photo: Academy President-Elect Tom Terry, PBGc CEO Josh Gotbaum, Academy President Cecil Bykerk

Academy President-Elect Tom Terry, PBGC Director Josh Gotbaum, Academy President Cecil Bykerk
Source: American Academy of Actuaries

PBGC Director Josh Gotbaum addressed the American Academy of Actuaries board last week. He applauded the academy's discussion paper, "Risky Business: Living Longer Without Income for Life," and encouraged the group to continue its lifetime income initiative. Gotbaum also discussed PBGC's efforts promoting sound retirement systems, and provided several ideas for how Congress, the public, and employers could each do their part to make sufficient lifetime income a reality.

In August, an analysis by the academy supported the methods used by PBGC to calculate the agency's financial position. "The Pension Committee of the American Academy of Actuaries believes the methods and assumptions used by the PBGC produce a reasonable representation of the PBGC's current obligation and deficit," the group said.

Editor's note: Portions of this blog post were reprinted from This Week with permission from the American Academy of Actuaries.

  1. Road sign with the words Retirement Ahead.Americans are deeply worried about retirement. Some 85 percent report that they are highly anxious about their retirement prospects. Read The Washington Post article, "Americans anxious about Retirement."
  2. Pensions are highly cost efficient. They can provide a given retirement benefit at about HALF the cost of an individual 401(k) account because pensions pool longevity risk and achieve better returns by investing for the long term. Read the report, "A Better Bang for the Buck: The Economic Efficiencies of Pensions."
  3. Pension benefits provide critical economic stability and accounted for a $1 trillion in economic output. In 2009, pensions supported some 6.5 million jobs. Read the report, "Pensionomics 2012: Measuring the Economic Impact of DB Pension Expenditures."
  4. Pensions reduce the risk of elder poverty and reduce public assistance costs. In 2010, older American households with pension income were nine times less likely to fall into poverty than those who had no pension income. Read the report, "The Pension Factor 2012: The Role of Pensions in Reducing Elder Economic Hardships."
  5. Americans overwhelmingly support Congressional action to provide all Americans with access to a new type of privately run pension plan. More than 90 percent would favor a new pension plan that is available to all Americans that is portable, and provides a monthly check in retirement. Read the report, "Pensions & Retirement Security 2013: A Roadmap for Policy Makers."

The National Institute on Retirement Security originated the content of this post.

How PBGC is changing the narrative on Retirement Security

From J. Jioni Palmer, Director, Communications and Public Affairs:

Photo of J. Jioni Palmer, Director of Communications & Public Affairs, CPAD

J. Jioni Palmer
Director of Communications & Public Affairs

I've always been fascinated by storytelling: The Harry Potter series, This American Life, Grimm, The Twilight Zone, The New Yorker and just about anything by Walter Mosely. Books, movies, radio, print or online periodicals, fact or fiction, it doesn't matter. Interesting characters and a compelling narrative rivet me.

I also particularly like watching commercials and I'm constantly amazed by the brilliance of ad writers who can develop the scene, introduce relatable characters and tell a complete story in 30 or 60 seconds. Beyond hawking products or pushing ideas, I find commercials offer interesting insights on the zeitgeist of a particular demographic, culture or society.

Today, in almost any hour of evening television, sandwiched between myriad commercials for insurance companies and the latest solution to make housecleaning a breeze, you'll see spots about encouraging the viewer to plan for retirement.

One really resonates with me because it echoes a true story we at the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation tell a lot lately: people are living longer but retirement security isn't keeping pace. In the commercial, the narrator asks people to place a blue sticker along a timeline next to the age of the oldest person they've ever known. Not surprisingly, there are many dots ranging between 80 and 110. The spot closes with, "How do you make sure you have enough money to enjoy all of these years?"

Disclaimer: Neither the author nor PBGC endorses the products or services of the sponsor.

Since its inception in 1974, PBGC has been at the forefront of protecting the retirement security of the American people in defined-benefit pension plans offered by private companies. Now, most people probably don't know the agency exists, let alone think about us until the business they work for goes belly-up and they hear talk that the pension they've been looking forward to is about to evaporate.

Fortunately, PBGC does exist, and the safety net it provides allows most workers and retirees to keep the full promised benefit they've earned over many years.

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From Sandy Rich, Chief of Negotiations and Restructuring:

Beechcraft, previously known as Hawker Beechcraft, emerged from bankruptcy February 21. Despite the company's original plan to terminate three pension plans, we at PBGC were able to work with the company, its employees, and company creditors to preserve one of the three plans while providing the safety net of PBGC trusteeship to the two terminated pension plans.

Beechcraft will continue a pension plan that will provide benefits to 8,300 participants. PBGC will provide guaranteed level benefits to the 9,500 beneficiaries of the terminated plans. In addition, PBGC supported a $2.5 million settlement with Beechcraft that will provide salaried retirees additional benefits exceeding those paid by PBGC under rules set by Congress.

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