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The Evolving Pension System

Trends, Effects, and Proposals for Reform

The Evolving Pension System by William G. Gale
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When the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) was passed in 1974, the world of pensions was very different from today. Then, most pensions were packaged as defined benefit plans—the employer guaranteed a certain level of income to the employee on retirement. But from the 1980s on, in part because of ERISA’s regulatory structure, but also because of job mobility and other factors, pension coverage increasingly meant defined contribution plans, with the burden of investment and outcome placed on the worker. For the most part, however, pension coverage has remained stagnant since the early 1980s, many low-wage workers have no pensions, and many small employers do not provide such retirement options.

The Evolving Pension System, divided into three parts, examines the foundations and the future of America’s private pension system. It provides a broad overview of the underlying characteristics and economic effects of existing pension policy, as well as alternative views on how public policy toward pensions should evolve in the future.

Part one examines the goals, features, and the effects of legislation affecting pensions, including the dramatic shift from defined benefit to defined contribution plans. Part two discusses how pensions affect the economic picture, and part three offers some prescriptions for broad-based pension reform.

Brookings Institution Press; Read online
Title: The Evolving Pension System
Author: William G. Gale; John B. Shoven; Mark J. Warshawsky

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