Union Workers May Lose More Than Half of Their Pensions

Loss Gives “Retire” a New Meaning, Says Expert

They should have learned from the retired-400 Little Red Hen in the children’s story, who taught not to expect others to provide what you want – but to do it yourself.

Instead, 407,000 workers – mostly unionized Teamster truck drivers and retirees – learned days ago from the Central States Pension Fund director Thomas Nyhan, that the pensions they were depending on may be cut to “virtually nothing.” [1]

Bleeding $2 Billion a year that it cannot replace, this fund proposed to the government that it could remain solvent by slashing pension payments by a retirement-crushing 60 percent.

The U.S. Treasury’s response: No. Even cutting pensions by 60 percent would not be enough to keep this underfunded fund going for much longer. The cuts must be far deeper, or the cost to workers must be much higher.

This gives ‘retirement’ a whole new meaning,” says veteran think tank futurist Lowell Ponte. “For many of these short-changed drivers, it means they must re-tire their vehicles and put that rubber back on the road. As with millions of others, this retirement plan shortfall will crash their dreams of retirement and force them to re-tire and keep on trucking.”

In the six books Ponte has co-authored with monetary expert Craig R. Smith, they have warned of many financial, economic and political risks to our retirement – and shown ways to reduce those risks.

In today’s ongoing economic crisis that began in 2008, they write, pension funds have been hard hit. Many pension funds could shrink or sink from these hits, and less secure retirement vehicles such as IRAs and 401(k)s could also crash or get hijacked.

Defined benefit pensions promise workers a specific amount of money every month when they retire, but these promises are based on guesses about how much interest the pension fund’s investments will earn. Those guesses in today’s flatlined economy have proven to be far too “optimistic” – or convenient.

As Smith and Ponte explain in their widely-praised 2015 book We Have Seen The Future and It Looks Like Baltimore: American Dream vs. Progressive Dream, America’s central bank the Federal Reserve dropped a key interest rate to zero at the start of the crisis to keep the economy from crashing.

This Zero Interest Rate Policy (ZIRP) has been in force ever since, which has provided almost free money to the government, the biggest banks, and giant corporation stock buybacks that juice the Wall Street casino. The real economy’s growth is now also barely above zero percent growth; we are stuck in a stagnant, near-recession economy, with shopping malls turned into ghost towns.

Trouble is, retired people who depended on earning bank interest on their savings now earn almost nothing. Likewise, quote Smith and Ponte in their Baltimore book, “[D]efined benefit pension funds become troubled as they fail to earn sufficient returns with ZIRP.” And to make matters worse, the Fed is now preparing for NIRP, Negative (below zero) Interest Rate Policy. [2]

Denied the safe old money multiplier of compound interest, both retired bank savers and pension funds are pressed to “reach for yield” by turning to riskier investments, such as stocks. This leads to a more unstable, less secure economy of speculation and malinvestment.

Old-fashioned pensions were already a dying species. They nowadays exist mostly for 78 percent of government workers (whose pensions are underfunded by at least $1 Trillion), for 67 percent of the seven percent of private sector workers in powerful unions like the Teamsters , and for 13 percent of employees of companies that can handle the huge monetary and growing regulatory costs of defined benefit plans because such pensions keep employees from quitting. The percentage of private sector workers or retirees with pensions has fallen by more than 50 percent since the 1990s. [3]

In 2015 President Barack Obama’s Administration proposed granting states a “safe harbor” from the rules and safeguards of ERISA, the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974. This, say critics, opens the way for squeezing private employers to help pay for underfunded state employee pensions. Led by California, 25 states have begun to move towards such rules. This could lead to more and more government control over our retirement plans, warn Smith and Ponte. [4]

The Obama Administration has already hinted it might imitate Argentina, which in 2008 suddenly seized bank retirement accounts and replaced the money in them with government bonds of equal face value…but whose market value was only 27 percent of their face value.

Social Security was supposed to provide a secure income for all, but as Smith and Ponte document, this grand-daddy of social programs has at least 12 major problems that mean it should not be relied upon for much longer. They explain these 12 Social Security problems in their latest book. [5]

As the Little Red Hen warned, all these paths to retirement are now at risk. And because these are denominated in dollars, the declining value of the dollar is bleeding away your ability to pay for future needs. You could save all your life and end up with a pile of paper money of greatly reduced value.

But as Craig and Lowell explain, you can hedge against all these risks and might have a retirement richer and more secure than you ever expected or imagined.

For a fascinating media interview with Lowell Ponte, contact: Sandy Frazier at sandy@mystic-art.com or call 516-735-5468.


[1] Tyler Durden, “407,000 Workers Stunned As Pension Fund Proposes 60% Cuts, Treasury Says ‘Not Enough,’” ZeroHedge.com, May 22, 2016.

[2] Craig R. Smith and Lowell Ponte, We Have Seen The Future and It Looks Like Baltimore: American Dream vs. Progressive Dream. Phoenix: P2 Books, 2015. Pages 164, 151-169.

[3] Monique Morrissey, “Private-sector Pension Coverage Fell By Half Over Two Decades,” Economic Policy Institute, January 11, 2013; Louis Carlozo, “Pensions Are Taking the Long, Lonely Road to Retirement,” U.S. News & World Report, July 20, 2015.

[4] Steven Malanga, “Despite Poor Record, States Eye Private Pensions,” Investor’s Business Daily, December 11, 2015; Craig R. Smith and Lowell Ponte, We Have Seen The Future and It Looks Like Baltimore: American Dream vs. Progressive Dream. Phoenix: P2 Books, 2015. Page 115-121.

[5] Craig R. Smith and Lowell Ponte, We Have Seen The Future and It Looks Like Baltimore: American Dream vs. Progressive Dream. Phoenix: P2 Books, 2015. Pages 111-115.

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