News from the AFL-CIO
- The State of Retirement Security in the United States
October, 18 2017
The State of Retirement Security in the United States
This week is National Retirement Security Week. Every year this week is used by the financial industry to promote retirement savings through their products and services. While we applaud the goal of promoting adequate retirement savings for all Americans, the reality is that many working families are not saving at all and are woefully unprepared for retirement. So this year, we are flipping the script and talking about National Retirement (In)Security Week.
The unfortunate truth is that many Americans are not saving enough for retirement (if they are saving at all) and will fall behind their standard of living in retirement. And they know it. According to polling released earlier this year, 88% agree that the nation faces a retirement savings crisis and 76% are concerned about their own ability to retire with security and dignity.
Much of the problem stems from lack of access to a retirement savings plan through an employer. At any given time, roughly half of working Americans do not have a retirement savings plan through their job. The overwhelming majority of people do not save for retirement if they do not have a plan through their employer. Most of the money in IRA plans are rollovers from 401(k) plans, not money contributed directly to the IRA plan. Among those who do contribute directly to an IRA, most of them also have access to a retirement savings plan through their employer.
Among workers who do have a retirement savings plan at work, there has been a significant shift over the past three decades from defined benefit pensions to defined contribution 401(k)-style plans. According to the Center for Retirement Research, in 1983, 62% of workers had a traditional pension and only 12% had a 401(k)-style plan. By 2016, only 17% were covered by a pension and 73% participated solely in a defined contribution plan. This is a remarkable shift and has a real impact on people’s retirement security.
The Economic Policy Institute has crunched the numbers on the retirement savings crisis. Among all working age (ages 32 to 61) families, the median retirement savings amount was $5,000 in 2013. Looking only at working age families with savings accounts (since nearly half have no savings), the median amount increases to $60,000. While this is significantly more, it is nowhere close to what the typical worker will need to finance a secure retirement.
Additionally, retirement savings is highly skewed. High income families are ten times as likely to have any retirement savings as low income families. Also, high income families own a greater share of retirement savings than they do of earned income. The top 20% of income earners receive 63% of all income in the United States, but they control 74% of all retirement savings.
Finally, for all income levels and demographic groups, retirement income from 401(k)s, IRAs and other defined contribution plans do NOT represent a significant share of income. For all people age 65 and older, only 8% receive income in retirement through a defined contribution plan and the median amount received is $5,400. Even for seniors in the top 20%, this source of income accounts for just 12% of retirement income (no group receives more than 12%).
The reality is that retirement prospects have worsened for many working families since the Great Recession. The percentage of working Americans participating in any type of retirement plan has declined from a peak of 60% in 2001 to 53% in 2013. For many, their retirement savings amounts are lower now than they were in 2007, just before the financial crisis. As we discuss the importance of retirement security this week, it is critical to have a clear sense of where most Americans are today and the challenges that they face.
This is a guest post from the National Public Pension Coalition.
Wed, 10/18/2017 – 09:57
- A Better Way to Vote
October, 17 2017
A Better Way to Vote
Imagine a state where voters never have to even wait in line or present a photo ID in order to get their ballot. Where bad weather, traffic jams, working late or child care duties never have to interfere with a citizen’s intent to exercise his or her democratic franchise.
A state where it’s the government’s obligation—if it knows a citizen is a registered voter—to deliver the ballot, not force the voter to go to a specific polling location or arrange for an absentee ballot.
Such a state is Oregon, where voters in 2000 approved by a more than 2-1 margin to create what can best be called a “Vote at Home” election system. Two other states—Washington and Colorado—have now adopted the same system, as have 21 of Utah’s 29 counties.
In Vote at Home systems, U.S. Postal Service letter carriers deliver a ballot to every active registered voter about two weeks before every election. Voters typically mark their ballots at home, then have the option of returning them by mail or taking them to any one of hundreds of ballot drop-sites around the state. Voters’ signatures on the return envelope are verified against voter registration cards before ballots can be counted, to ensure election integrity.
This week, former Oregon Secretary of State Phil Keisling will be in Washington, D.C., for an event the AFL-CIO is co-sponsoring with the National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC) to talk about the many benefits of Vote at Home elections. Voters strongly approve of the system; it saves millions in taxpayer dollars in reduced election costs; and, perhaps most important of all, it spurs significantly higher voter turnout, especially in midterm elections. Keisling will be joined by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who was elected in 1996 in the nation’s first-ever federal election that used this system.
As America’s working men and women look ahead to future elections, Vote at Home seems like a simple, common-sense reform with exceptional power to reinvigorate American democracy. Just recently, a new organization—National Vote at Home Coalition—was launched to help support such efforts as a Vote at Home ballot measure campaign that was recently launched by progressive activists in South Dakota. Other ballot measure efforts also are being discussed for several other states, as well as legislative efforts in several other states.
In 2016, an estimated 60 million already registered voters didn’t cast a ballot—and more than 100 million didn’t in 2014. Maybe it’s time to start relying on the genius of Benjamin Franklin—and the U.S. Postal Service he created nearly 250 years ago—to start fixing that.
Tue, 10/17/2017 – 11:40
- Partnership Brings Relief to Puerto Rico
October, 17 2017
Partnership Brings Relief to Puerto Rico
As part of the response to the devastation in Puerto Rico, working people and United Airlines teamed up to fly more than 300 first responders and skilled volunteers to help with relief and rebuilding. The partnership was a response to an urgent request from Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz for highly skilled workers.
In response, Cruz said:
I will always remember and, most importantly, San Juan will never forget the sight of hope and redemption of brotherhood and sisterhood of more than 300 union brothers and sisters stepping out of their buses with open hearts to help those whose cry for help some have tried to dismiss and diminish. Your compassion, your skills, but most of all, your great heart has strengthened our bodies have rebuilt our buildings, but most of all has touched our souls. We know we are not alone, for we know the union movement will never forsake us….
Where there are problems to be fixed, you do not run away, you stand by us every step of the way….
You embody the true nature of the American spirit of compassion, ingenuity, and resilience….
Your presence here reassures us with our minds and with our hearts that all Puerto Ricans have seen that not only is it the right thing to do, but it is the path for the future. San Juan will never be able to pay the debt of gratitude, brotherhood, and sisterhood that will forever bond us together.
AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler said:
Last week, I joined more than 300 hardworking union men and women who volunteered to help their fellow U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico and flew with them to San Juan in an airplane operated in partnership with United Airlines.
Nurses, doctors, engineers, carpenters, electricians, truck drivers and working people from different backgrounds joined together in a heartbeat and responded to the recovery efforts. Since landing, they have been working around the clock to help devastated communities.
Whether delivering critical aid, restoring power or saving lives—they are real life heroes and they’re making a real difference. And we’re in it for the long haul.
I could not be more proud to be part of a movement alongside these selfless and brave working women and men. We are proud of their work and honored to have a few of them join us today to tell you their personal accounts.
Tue, 10/17/2017 – 10:20
- Texas Unions Partner with Mayor Turner to Send Supplies to Puerto Rico
October, 16 2017
Texas Unions Partner with Mayor Turner to Send Supplies to Puerto Rico
The Seafarers (SIU) union and other Houston-area unions organized a relief drive to collect supplies for Puerto Rican hurricane survivors.
Yesterday, leaders from the Texas labor movement joined together with Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner to load containers with vital supplies for a ship bound for Puerto Rico.
The Seafarers secured the shipping containers and organized with other local unions and the mayor’s office to collect materials being donated to Puerto Rican communities impacted by Hurricane Maria. Recent reports state that 85% of the island is still without electricity and 40% of the population still lack access to clean drinking water.
The cargo ship is delivering water, nonperishable food, toiletries, battery-powered electronics, mops, brooms and other desperately needed items to the Puerto Rico AFL-CIO in San Juan. The supplies will be shipped on the National Glory, a U.S.-flagged vessel owned and operated by National Shipping of America, that will be crewed by SIU members under the Jones Act. Plans to send more cargo to Puerto Rico are in the works.
“The labor movement is at its best when we work together during times of great need. We saw that here in Texas after Hurricane Harvey, and now we want to extend that help to Puerto Rico,” said Zeph Capo, president of the Texas Gulf Coast Area Labor Federation.
Dean Corgey, vice president of the Gulf Coast Region of the Seafarers, said, “Mayor Turner has been a stalwart supporter of Houstonians and others harmed by hurricanes recently. We’re proud to be partnering with the mayor on this effort to bring aid to Puerto Rico.”
Mon, 10/16/2017 – 16:05
- Why the Best Protectors for Workers Are Other Workers
October, 13 2017
Why the Best Protectors for Workers Are Other Workers
As concertgoers fled the mass shooting at the country music festival outside the Mandalay Bay in Clark County, Nev., at the end of the Las Vegas strip, dozens of off-duty fire fighters attending the concert sprang into action. Twelve were among the wounded by gunfire.
At the same time, more than 150 fire fighters and paramedics from Clark County Local 1908 and surrounding locals rushed to the scene to save lives, treat the wounded and help the survivors.
“Our members–including those attending the concert off duty–reacted as they always do,” said IAFF General President Harold Schaitberger. “They put their training to work immediately, without hesitation and without regard for their own safety, making quick and difficult decisions on how best to save lives.”
As the news of the unfolding tragedy flashed across the nation, the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) – the union representing more than 310,000 professional fire fighters and paramedics–also took action, reaching out to Clark County Local 1908 and other affiliates in the area to provide assistance.
On Monday morning after the shooting, Patrick Morrison–a retired Virginia fire fighter who heads the health and safety division at the IAFF, was on the phone with affiliates across the country to organize and mobilize experienced teams of peer support counselors and trauma specialists to help members involved in the response to the mass shooting. Within hours, he too was on a plane to Las Vegas.
“It’s easy to see a broken arm and treat it. It’s more difficult to see trauma to our brains or hearts,” Morrison said. “Everyday, work for fire fighters and paramedics can be traumatic. Mass-casualty events can be much worse. We want to make sure our members understand the signs and symptoms of traumatic stress injuries, so we can treat them.”
Many of the peer support counselors who arrived in Las Vegas have been through similar events. Some pulled bodies from the attack at the 2016 Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Fla., where 49 people were killed and 59 wounded. Others got a crash course in trauma from the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, or from the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012.
All of them brought their personal stories to Las Vegas to help their union brothers and sisters.
At the school shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, Col., Ray Rahne was a fire fighter who had responded like everyone else in his department. Afterwards, the Vietnam veteran, who is also a husband and father, would find himself crying at times. And he was skittish and jumpy.
“I would go from happy to depressed at the snap of the fingers. People started asking, ‘What’s going on?’ This went on for over a year. Finally, I thought, I don’t know. I’ve got to go see somebody,” Rahne said.
Now retired from Littleton Fire and Rescue and a IAFF district vice president, Rahne got help and then joined his union’s growing movement to treat mental and emotional injuries to fire fighters, paramedics, and dispatchers.
Two years ago, the IAFF hired its first full-time and permanent behavior health specialist. This year, the union plans to hire a second. And, last March, the union opened the Center of Excellence for Behavioral Health Treatment and Recovery in Upper Marlboro, Md., exclusively for IAFF members.
“Health and safety is a big priority for us. We want to make sure all of our members are as safe as possible,” Morrison said.
Fri, 10/13/2017 – 16:05