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Thu Jul 19, 2012, 11:03 AM

The collapsing middle class- now they are going after pensions.

The story as reported.

On July 6th, President Obama signed the "Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act", also known as MAP-21. Headlines chronicling the event focused on the extension of lower interest rates on student loans. Second billing on this bipartisan legislation went to the reauthorization of federal funding for transportation programs, which was touted by the administration for creating jobs. The law also dealt with various unrelated matters, including taxation of roll-your-own cigarette machines and changes in pension regulations...
Typical coverage of the bill here: http://www.cnn.com/2012/06/29/politics/congress-highway-bill/index.html

The very last paragraph of the article includes a single sentence on pension funding: "During negotiations this week, legislators decided the revenue to pay the $6 billion cost should come from changes to the way companies fund pension programs..." The media focus on student loan rates meant that the change in pension funding went mostly unnoticed and unremarked.

Pension fund "stabilization."

An AP article in the Money section of USA Today gives the new pension legislation more coverage, including this summary of its content and effects (emphasis added): http://www.usatoday.com/money/industries/story/2012-07-09/New-law-gives-companies-pensions-break/56114600/1

A new law will let companies contribute billions of dollars less to their workers' pension funds, raising concerns about weakening the plans that millions of Americans count on for retirement.
...
The bill Obama signed into law on July 6 renews transportation programs and extends low interest rates on student loans. It was partly paid for by changing pension laws. It would raise around $10 billion over the next decade by gradually boosting the premiums companies pay the government to insure their pension plans, and another $9 billion by changing how businesses calculate what they must contribute to their pension funds.

That computation change will let companies estimate their pension fund earnings by assuming the interest rate will be near the average of the past 25 years, rather than the past two years when interest rates have been extremely low. Since they will now be able to assume that their pension investments are earning higher profits, they will be required to contribute less money from corporate coffers to make up the difference.

The government makes money because companies will make fewer pension contributions, which are tax deductible.


The cover story.

The Pension Fund Stabilization provision in the new law is a compromise primarily designed to serve two purposes- to provide more revenue for existing government programs and to reduce annual pension contributions for companies. From the New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/29/business/tweak-in-a-pension-rule-could-finance-roads-and-student-loans.html

Congress has been struggling for years to find a new source of money for roads and other infrastructure, because the main source, an 18.4-cents-a-gallon tax on gasoline, no longer covers the cost. The gas tax has not been changed since 1993, and as oil prices have spiked in recent years Americans have been switching to more fuel-efficient cars and driving less.

Pressure has also mounted this year to find a way to keep the interest rate on Stafford loans from doubling on Sunday, when a five-year rate relief program is set to expire. The current rate, 3.4 percent, will rise to 6.8 percent without an extension, affecting more than seven million students who are expected to take out such loans for the next academic year.

Lawmakers tussled over other sources of money, with Republicans and Democrats shooting down each otherís proposals, until pensions came into focus, both as a possible revenue source and a much-needed piece of bipartisan common ground. Lawmakers of both parties are inclined to find ways to help companies operate their pension plans...

Low interest rates may help the economy overall, but they are a hardship for the companies that offer pensions to their workers. When interest rates are low, the funding rules call for companies to put more money into their pension plans, on the assumption that the money will compound more slowly. And this year, because the economy is still weak, companies with pension plans were back on Capitol Hill once again, asking for additional help. But this time they proposed a new way of calculating pension obligations, by adjusting the interest rates they use to calculate contributions.


Estimates of the near-term savings on corporate contributions vary. According to Jacques Goulet, US leader of Mercer's Retirement, Risk & Finance, "...relief could be in the range of $40 to $50 billion for S&P 1500 plan sponsors for 2012 and could total well over $100 billion through 2014." The Society of Actuaries, quoted in the AP article in USA Today, estimates that the reduction in contributions will be $35 billion this year and will peak at $73 billion next year.

Just three days after the bill was signed, the first shoe dropped when AK Steel announced it was cutting its planned pension contribution for 2013 from $300,000,000 to $200,000,000.

What it means.

While the legislation was tailored to suit the needs of Congress and corporations, it did so by shortchanging the needs of pension plan participants and, quite possibly, taxpayers. Congress and the companies got a quick cash infusion while the public got more risk and less solvent pension plans. The loosening of funding standards comes at a particularly bad time as far as the plans are concerned. Milliman, Inc. reports on the condition of the largest pension plans: http://www.businessinsurance.com/article/20120709/NEWS03/120709911

Funding levels of pension plans sponsored by large publicly-held U.S. employers plunged in June as lower interest rates fueled a rise in plan liabilities, Milliman Inc. said in an analysis released Monday.

Defined benefit plans offered by the 100 U.S. employers with the largest pension programs were an average of 75.6% funded as of June 30, down from 77.9% at the end of May 31.

In all, the funding deficit jumped $77 billion last month. At the end of June, the value of aggregate plan assets was $1.283 trillion, while the value of plan liabilities was $1.698 trillion. That resulted in a $415 billion deficit, up from $358 billion at end of May.

"With the help of the lowest discount rate in the 12-year history of our study, corporate pensions last month saw their funding deficit increase, to a near-record $415 billion,'"John Ehrhardt, a Milliman consulting actuary in New York and co-author of the analysis, said in a statement.


This is a continuation of the recent trend as shown in the chart below (also from Milliman):

It is difficult to believe that relaxing contribution requirements at this time will not exacerbate the trend toward pension fund insolvency. Perversely, the cash injection into corporate coffers comes at a time when companies are already sitting on record amounts of cash. From the Wall Street Journal: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424053111903927204576574720017009568.html

Corporations have a higher share of cash on their balance sheets than at any time in nearly half a century, as businesses build up buffers rather than invest in new plants or hiring.

Nonfinancial companies held more than $2 trillion in cash and other liquid assets at the end of June, the Federal Reserve reported Friday, up more than $88 billion from the end of March. Cash accounted for 7.1% of all company assets, everything from buildings to bonds, the highest level since 1963.


In short, this is money that many companies don't need. But in a business culture in which the only acceptable motive is profit, leaving money on the table is viewed as weak, foolish, or irresponsible, and greed trumps decency.

If the economy continues to wallow in a long-term recession, the Fed is likely to extend its zero interest rate policy (ZIRP). As it is, the Fed has already announced that it will extend ZIRP through late 2014. Facing continuing low returns on their pension fund assets, companies will surely want to extend their benefit contribution holiday. Given the bipartisan support for MAP-21, it is difficult to imagine that companies would not get an extension if they lobbied for it. Recent history reinforces this point. The Pension Protection Act of 2006 tightened pension funding requirements. The provisions of the PPA were supposed to be phased in gradually, including a stipulation that any "funding shortfall" would be amortized over a seven year period starting in 2008. Additionally, the act provided for accelerated funding requirements for "at risk" plans- where "at risk" is defined as less than 80% funded. Sadly, the good intentions of these reforms disintegrated with the passage of MAP-21.

Artificially inflating the "expected" return on existing pension fund assets serves no useful purpose except to reduce current employer contributions. The contribution shortfall is then replaced by projecting increases in asset appreciation and interest income which are counted on to make up the difference. Sound financial practice is abandoned and replaced with an appeal to wishful thinking or the power of prayer. This is exactly the sort of thing that someone with questionable motives might do with other people's money. Nobody in their right mind would do it with their own money, especially if they were relying on those funds for retirement.


For those interested in the subject, more reading:
http://www.investopedia.com/university/financialstatements/financialstatements9.asp#axzz20ejQiuKf
http://www.pensionrights.org/issues/legislation/pension-provisions-hr-4348-%E2%80%93-moving-ahead-progress-21st-century-map-21-act
http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2012/04/pension-funding-issues-hidden-in-transportation-highway-bill
http://blog.ebeclaw.com/2011/02/summary-of-pension-protection-act-of.html

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Reply The collapsing middle class- now they are going after pensions. (Original post)
hay rick Jul 2012 OP
cyberpj Jul 2012 #1
woo me with science Jul 2012 #2
hay rick Jul 2012 #5
HiPointDem Jul 2012 #9
woo me with science Jul 2012 #43
LineLineNew Reply !
bvar22 Jul 2012 #42
woo me with science Jul 2012 #44
n2doc Jul 2012 #3
Zalatix Jul 2012 #4
99Forever Jul 2012 #10
Post removed Jul 2012 #6
lovuian Jul 2012 #7
HiPointDem Jul 2012 #8
HiPointDem Jul 2012 #11
Romulox Jul 2012 #12
HiPointDem Jul 2012 #13
Brickbat Jul 2012 #16
dionysus Jul 2012 #22
Romulox Jul 2012 #23
dionysus Jul 2012 #24
Romulox Jul 2012 #25
woo me with science Jul 2012 #46
dionysus Jul 2012 #47
bvar22 Jul 2012 #51
NickB79 Jul 2012 #30
Romulox Jul 2012 #38
Romulox Jul 2012 #39
dionysus Jul 2012 #48
NickB79 Jul 2012 #50
mckara Jul 2012 #14
randome Jul 2012 #15
We are Devo Jul 2012 #32
PufPuf23 Jul 2012 #17
dixiegrrrrl Jul 2012 #18
hay rick Jul 2012 #19
dixiegrrrrl Jul 2012 #20
aquart Jul 2012 #21
liberal N proud Jul 2012 #26
freshwest Jul 2012 #28
hay rick Jul 2012 #29
liberal N proud Jul 2012 #31
hay rick Jul 2012 #34
liberal N proud Jul 2012 #36
hay rick Jul 2012 #37
LiberalLoner Jul 2012 #27
NNN0LHI Jul 2012 #33
Initech Jul 2012 #35
Romulox Jul 2012 #40
nichomachus Jul 2012 #41
Swede Jul 2012 #45
nichomachus Jul 2012 #49

Response to hay rick (Original post)

Thu Jul 19, 2012, 11:16 AM

1. Like Matadors, distracting bulls from attacking, our legislators wave a benefit in front of us

 

and distract us from attacking (sometimes, even FINDING) the means to pay for that benefit.

I hope this gets some real attention in the media, and that current and future pensioners can gather and protest loudly on this one.

I haven't been an AARP fan but they better be on the right side of this one and I intend to call them to find out.

Sweet Jesus I'm tired of having to fight the government that was formed to protect me and my constitution!

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Response to hay rick (Original post)

Thu Jul 19, 2012, 11:22 AM

2. We are under assault, and that assault is bipartisan.

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Response to woo me with science (Reply #2)

Thu Jul 19, 2012, 11:45 AM

5. We live in an age of policy-driven catastrophes.

Defunding pensions is just the latest phase of the looting of Americans on behalf of the rich. Sadly, the pension contribution holiday is an appropriate bookend for the payroll tax holiday. One will gradually undermine the solvency of defined benefit pensions while the other undermines the long-term viability of Social Security.

And the assault is bipartisan.

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Response to hay rick (Reply #5)

Thu Jul 19, 2012, 11:57 AM

9. "plicy-driven catastrophes" = exactly.

 

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Response to HiPointDem (Reply #9)

Fri Jul 20, 2012, 11:20 AM

43. Shock doctine.

We are living it.

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Response to woo me with science (Reply #2)

Fri Jul 20, 2012, 11:10 AM

42. !

"We are under assault, and that assault is bipartisan."--- woo me with science


[font size=5]Paulson with Co-Conspirators

Now THIS is "Bi-Partisanship".[/font]







You will know them by their WORKS,
not by their excuses.
[font size=5 color=green]Solidarity99![/font][font size=2 color=green]
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------[/center]

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Response to bvar22 (Reply #42)

Fri Jul 20, 2012, 11:21 AM

44. +1000000

Wake up, America.

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Response to hay rick (Original post)

Thu Jul 19, 2012, 11:30 AM

3. The goal of the 1%'ers

They live in absolute luxury. The rest of us work until we can't, then die. Back to the dark ages.

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Response to n2doc (Reply #3)

Thu Jul 19, 2012, 11:33 AM

4. The only way out is to destroy the total value of their wealth.

 

Make the Plutocrats as poor as everyone else that they're preying on. Destroy all their power and put their skin in the game.

The alternative is exactly what you said... the dark ages, for the 99% that is.

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Response to Zalatix (Reply #4)

Thu Jul 19, 2012, 12:15 PM

10. Sad but true.

Nothing short of that will have an effect. This battle is as old as history, and it always comes down to the same thing, greed vs. humanity and compassion. We MUST not lose this and leave it to our children.

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Response to hay rick (Original post)


Response to hay rick (Original post)

Thu Jul 19, 2012, 11:51 AM

7. the worker is under attack here and they will Rise up

no amount of drones military or police with stop the worker from rising up

History is testimony of this

if the plan is to reduce the worker to starvation and death ....then someday the worker is going to figure out
he can die fighting or can die in a ditch

its his choice

they ultimately choose to die fighting

they can't build enough prisons to hold them


I'm absolutely amazed at the stupidity of the 1% because the ultimate turning point from Brutal capitalism is socialism

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Response to hay rick (Original post)

Thu Jul 19, 2012, 11:56 AM

8. kr & fuck them all.

 

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Response to hay rick (Original post)

Thu Jul 19, 2012, 12:59 PM

11. "A new law will let companies contribute billions of dollars less to their workers' pension funds"

 

kicking for importance

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Response to hay rick (Original post)

Thu Jul 19, 2012, 01:00 PM

12. Sucks that nobody gets a pension anymore. Still, have you SEEN the 2012 Kia Soul? SIRIUS radio!

Who needs a pension, when you get Sirius radio?

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Response to Romulox (Reply #12)

Thu Jul 19, 2012, 01:16 PM

13. lol

 

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Response to Romulox (Reply #12)

Thu Jul 19, 2012, 01:40 PM

16. Snerk!

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Response to Romulox (Reply #12)

Thu Jul 19, 2012, 04:06 PM

22. do you want to ask mineralman out on a date or something? your obsession is wierd.

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Response to dionysus (Reply #22)

Thu Jul 19, 2012, 04:08 PM

23. Says the guy following me around from thread to thread!

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Response to Romulox (Reply #23)

Thu Jul 19, 2012, 04:12 PM

24. i read a thread, i see another post where you talk shit about your crush.. don't put that shit on me

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Response to dionysus (Reply #24)

Thu Jul 19, 2012, 04:23 PM

25. Listen, I'd reciprocate, and post sweaty, needy responses to YOU, if you EVER posted on any issue.

As it stands, you do little more than echo the sentiment of some of the more articulate posters.

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Response to dionysus (Reply #22)

Fri Jul 20, 2012, 11:30 AM

46. I was just about to ask you the same thing.

You are quite the ardent defender.

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Response to woo me with science (Reply #46)

Fri Jul 20, 2012, 11:34 AM

47. i just find it childish to randomly talk shit about people in threads target isn't posting in.

it's little kid shit.

if someone went into threads where you weren't posting in and posted shit about you, i'd think it was childish then, too.


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Response to dionysus (Reply #47)

Fri Jul 20, 2012, 04:54 PM

51. Self-delete


!

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Response to Romulox (Reply #12)

Thu Jul 19, 2012, 08:14 PM

30. MineralMan really got under your skin, didn't he?

Good.

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Response to NickB79 (Reply #30)

Thu Jul 19, 2012, 11:00 PM

38. I know, right? Stick it to American workers, Mineral Man! nt

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Response to NickB79 (Reply #30)

Thu Jul 19, 2012, 11:10 PM

39. PS: Who in hell are you?

Never heard of you.

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Response to Romulox (Reply #39)

Fri Jul 20, 2012, 11:35 AM

48. oooh, he must be a "stalker"!1!!

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Response to Romulox (Reply #39)

Fri Jul 20, 2012, 04:33 PM

50. I read through the thread you were referring to

Where you were acting like a dick, IMO. Then, while I was reading a different thread, I saw you just couldn't let it go so you had to carry your grudge over to a completely different topic.

Classy.

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Response to hay rick (Original post)

Thu Jul 19, 2012, 01:33 PM

14. Pension Funds are Where Equity Funds Go to Die

 

Pension funds have been under attack for decades in the War of Speculators v. Savers

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Response to hay rick (Original post)

Thu Jul 19, 2012, 01:34 PM

15. Whoa! I thought that said 'penises' at first.

 

I need to clean my glasses.

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Response to randome (Reply #15)

Thu Jul 19, 2012, 08:50 PM

32. *snicker* n/t

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Response to hay rick (Original post)

Thu Jul 19, 2012, 02:01 PM

17. The bi-partisan shamelessness of our corporate and private equity corporatocracy.

Excellent and informing post. Recced.

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Response to hay rick (Original post)

Thu Jul 19, 2012, 02:59 PM

18. 2 things:

First, that is an excellent post. Detailed, and an important topic.
Thank you. Will bookmark and rec.

second, there are stories coming out of Spain in which banks holding retirement savings of people have
"sequestered" that money, preventing the owners of the accounts from accessing their savings.


Also:
by keeping interest rates low, the Bernak is keeping Soc Sec. funds underfunded, thus enduring the fund will go broke at least a decade earlier than predicted.

Soc. Sec. and most pension/retirement funds were originally based on an average return of 8%.
Which has not happened for years now.
Sadly, I have friends in their late 50's who absolutely refused to believe their retirement funds are facing any problems, even as towns and cities declare bankruptcy and cannot pay into the same funds.

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Response to dixiegrrrrl (Reply #18)

Thu Jul 19, 2012, 03:46 PM

19. Low interest rates.

As you point out, the low interest rates are also having an adverse effect on the solvency of Social Security. Both defined benefit pension funds and Social Security are caught in the same kind of pincer- lagging earnings coupled with reduced contributions. Social Security receipts are further diminished by high unemployment and static wage levels.

Poor boomers. They have lost equity in their homes or lost them entirely to foreclosure. In many cases they have lost their jobs. And now their retirement incomes are up for grabs.

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Response to hay rick (Reply #19)

Thu Jul 19, 2012, 03:59 PM

20. and, again I say, by now this should not be a surprise.

the word "austerity" does not need to be used here.
"policy" is what is killing us.

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Response to hay rick (Original post)

Thu Jul 19, 2012, 04:01 PM

21. Messing with pensions should be a death penalty offense.

It's ridiculous to pretend it isn't mass murder.

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Response to hay rick (Original post)

Thu Jul 19, 2012, 04:29 PM

26. They have been coming after our pensions for a long time

Mine was frozen in 2005.

My father who has been retired since the early days of the Regan Regime has seen them wittle away at his pension and they keep threatening to stop paying what they promised altogether.

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Response to liberal N proud (Reply #26)

Thu Jul 19, 2012, 07:58 PM

28. I'm not sure about the profit angle, but my report from my corporate pension was coming more often.

And they were threatening, more or less, to terminate the plan as they are no longer being paid in the same amount as they are sending out. They were sending the notices out more regularly and I figured it meant that my company pension would not be coming, after all.

It was one of the terms of the negotiated contract, that if the corporation (which kept changing its name and headquarters) was bringing in less income than was being paid to current retirees out of the accumulated trust fund, the amount would be reduced for everyone.

I don't see how this had to do with profits as the OP says, because they need the profits from current business to keep going, don't they?

The trust fund currently supports about a 100K people, their dependents and medical care. Iit is anticipated to support over a quarter million in the next three years. They indicated if incoming was reduced to a certain percent, since it was already 25% less than outgoing, they would send a lump payment and that would be the end of their obligation. Depressing, but there's not as much money flowing around as there was.

They began to refer to our rights to seek full or partial payments of what they would not be able to pay through the federal program, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation. It has a deficit from having to guarantee the pensions of people whose corporations have come on hard times, been sold out, gone out of business or otherwise are not making their payments.

Suddenly my pension has been returned to the exact same company name I started with, at the same city I worked in, after all these years. It says this notice of the plan 'replaces and supersedes all the summaries of material modifications' that had been sent, that said we might have to go to the PBGC. The talk of turning us over to the PBGC has been deleted and also the talk of terminating the plan suddenly stopped.

If Obama or this legislation had anything to do with it, I'm grateful, because I need that pension. It mentioned several times about additional coverage for people who were disabled. So I truly don't know if the sky is falling or not here. Better informed people than me will say.

Good luck for your family in getting theirs. Frankly, I won't really believe it until I get that first check...



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Response to liberal N proud (Reply #26)

Thu Jul 19, 2012, 08:06 PM

29. 2005.

United Airlines?

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Response to hay rick (Reply #29)

Thu Jul 19, 2012, 08:44 PM

31. No but probably some managment from there.

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Response to liberal N proud (Reply #31)

Thu Jul 19, 2012, 09:08 PM

34. US Air?

Not that it is my business, but if you want to share your story, I think it's valuable to provide context. Yes, pensions have been under attack for a long time- particularly in the airline and steel industries. Bankruptcy courts have played a part. The politics of PBGC funding has been a factor. And now politicians of both parties are rolling over and playing dead while companies make lame excuses and intentionally underfund pensions. In short, it's going from bad to worse.

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Response to hay rick (Reply #34)

Thu Jul 19, 2012, 09:55 PM

36. I would rather not share the company name

I still work there and need a considerable number of years before drawing what is in there. The company is consumer products "holding" company. When they became a holding company they froze pensions. It freed up money to by more businesses.

They just followed all the others and froze our pensions, new hires don't get one at all.

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Response to liberal N proud (Reply #36)

Thu Jul 19, 2012, 10:13 PM

37. Thanks.

You got me to look up "freezing pension plans" and I came to this link: http://www.pensionrights.org/publications/fact-sheet/pension-freezes

Looks like companies have considerable discretion in freezing pension plans. The only constraint seems to be that employees can not be denied benefits which they have already earned.

This is obviously a hardship for people who have too many years invested in the job to quit (and not enough time left to start over). Even worse- the new hires who are doing the same kind of work for less and with even poorer retirement prospects.

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Response to hay rick (Original post)

Thu Jul 19, 2012, 05:06 PM

27. Yes they are trying to commit mass murder,

The plutocracy in charge wants us dead. Resources are becoming ever more scarce and they don't want to share with us. Within a couple of decades we will be seeing conditions like famine-stricken Korea, and most of us here will die.

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Response to hay rick (Original post)

Thu Jul 19, 2012, 09:02 PM

33. I fully expect my company to stop paying my pension and turn it over to the PBGC

Hey, if its good enough for Toyota to do its good enough for my employer to do too.

Don

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Response to hay rick (Original post)

Thu Jul 19, 2012, 09:18 PM

35. The vulture capitalist scumbags have been stealing our pensions for a while now.

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Response to hay rick (Original post)

Fri Jul 20, 2012, 09:07 AM

40. Listen guys. We may have no pensions, but it's got a 10 years/100,000 mile drivetrain warranty! nt

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Response to hay rick (Original post)

Fri Jul 20, 2012, 10:08 AM

41. That's why I took all my pension money as a lump sum

I knew the fuckers would find a way to steal it

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Response to nichomachus (Reply #41)

Fri Jul 20, 2012, 11:24 AM

45. Did you put it in a 401k?

Or as much as you could. Saves on taxes. But it is the best and safest way to control a pension.

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Response to Swede (Reply #45)

Fri Jul 20, 2012, 01:50 PM

49. I was able to roll it over

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