Private Pensions: Improving Worker Coverage and Benefits

GAO-02-225 Published: Apr 09, 2002. Publicly Released: Apr 09, 2002.
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Although pensions are an important source of income for many retirees, millions of workers lack individual pension coverage. Only half of the nation's workers have been covered by private employer-sponsored pensions since the 1970s. Traditional reforms to the voluntary, single-employer-based pension system have limited potential to expand pension coverage and improve worker benefits. These pension reforms have concentrated mainly on improving tax incentives and reducing the regulatory burden on small employers. Furthermore, efforts to increase retirement savings by restricting the use of lump-sum distributions could limit worker participation in and contributions to pension plans. Three categories of reform--pooled employer reforms, universal access reforms, and universal participation reforms--go beyond the voluntary, single-employer private pension system. Pooled employer reforms seek to increase the number of firms offering pension coverage by creating centralized third-party administration and increasing pension plan portability. Universal access reforms seek to boost savings by offering payroll-based accounts, albeit without mandating employer contributions. Universal participation reforms would mandate pension availability and participation for all workers, similar to the existing Social Security system.

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