preloader icon

Apex Trader Funding (ATF) - News

Opinion Bountiful pensions and retirements free from worry? The ‘golden age’ of retirement is a lie.

There was never a “golden age” of retirement in America.

Retirees 30 or 40 years ago did not have it better than retirees today. Retirees do not have it so much better in other countries. There is no nirvana of free everything for the over-65s. Anyone who thinks the retirement system is better in Kazakhstan — where 80% of rural homes still have outdoor toilets — should move there and try it.

But these retirement myths and fairy tales die hard. And they were on display on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, where Bernie Sanders’s Senate “Health, Education, Labor and Pensions” (i.e., “HELP” — get it?) committee held yet another dog-and-pony show on the subject.

America faces huge retirement challenges, but it’s hardly going to help us get to where we are going if we can’t even agree where we are, let alone where we used to be.

So where do you want to start? A number of speakers — senators and witnesses — harked back to the supposed good old days, where beneficent American corporations lavished wonderful pensions for life on all their workers and everyone lived, retired and died happy. 

This golden age was supposedly before the great plague of “greed” suddenly attacked the country, out of nowhere, ’round about 1980.

Never let the facts get in the way of a good story, right? It’s all baloney.

Private-sector pensions were always for a privileged minority. According to the Congressional Research Service, in 1980 fewer than 27% of Americans over 65 had a pension. The peak, around 1990, was 37%. At most, private-sector pensions provided about one-fifth of all retirement income.

The number who paid into a pension was much higher. But they didn’t get to draw out much, or anything, unless they’d been with an employer for a long time. If you had a job for life with one company then, yes, you probably did pretty well. But if you didn’t, you could easily get hosed.

Those “golden age” private-sector pensions were so great that Congress had to pass the sweeping, landmark 1974 Employee Retirement Income Security Act, or ERISA, to try to curb many of the (legion) rampant abuses.