The Sept. 1 editorial “The Democrats’ pension dilemma” got the “dilemma” exactly backward.
It’s not true that public-sector employees negotiated better benefits than those available to private-sector workers. What is true is that, a generation ago, private-sector workers enjoyed the same kinds of retirement and health benefits as public employees did. But over the years, private-sector employers have abandoned pensions in favor of 401(k) plans — which is why workers saw their retirement savings deflate markedly during the Great Recession. Private employers have also scaled back health benefits in an effort to save money and/or boost profits. So it’s not that public employees have negotiated more. It’s that private employers have taken away more.
Stripping away public pensions is not the answer to America’s retirement crisis. Establishing affordable, easily administered private-sector pension plans is. That’s what Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) is trying to accomplish with his USA Retirement Funds proposal and what state Sen. Kevin de León (D) appears on the brink of accomplishing in California. If they succeed, America’s seniors will be an economic asset rather than a drain on public resources.
Instead of dooming everyone to a future of uncertainty and doubt, why not opt for retirement security for all?
Hank Kim, Washington
The writer is director of the National Conference on Public Employee Retirement Systems.