When I'm Sixty-Four: The Plot against Pensions and the Plan to Save Themby Teresa Ghilarducci
A crisis is looming for baby boomers and anyone else who hopes to retire in the coming years. In When I'm Sixty-Four, Teresa Ghilarducci, the nation's leading authority on the economics of retirement, explains how to confront this crisis head-on, revealing the causes behind the increasingly precarious economics of old age in America and proposing a bold plan/i>… See more details below
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A crisis is looming for baby boomers and anyone else who hopes to retire in the coming years. In When I'm Sixty-Four, Teresa Ghilarducci, the nation's leading authority on the economics of retirement, explains how to confront this crisis head-on, revealing the causes behind the increasingly precarious economics of old age in America and proposing a bold plan to guarantee retirement security for every working citizen.
Retirement is one of the hallmarks of a prosperous, civilized market economy. Yet in America today Social Security is on the ropes. Government and employers are dismantling pension security, forcing older people to work longer. The federal government spends billions in exemptions for 401(k)s and other voluntary retirement accounts, yet retirement savings for most workers is falling. Ghilarducci takes an unflinching look at the eroding economic structure of retirement in Americaand what she finds is alarming. She exposes the failures of pension regulators and the false hopes of privatized Social Security. She tells the ugly truth about risky 401(k) plans, do-it-yourself retirement schemes, and companies like Enron that have left employees without any retirement savings. Ghilarducci puts forward a sweeping plan to revive the retirement-income system, a plan that will ensure that, after forty years of work, every American will receive 70 percent of their preretirement earnings, guaranteed for life. No other book makes such a persuasive case for overhauling the pension and Social Security system in order to provide older Americans with the financial stability they have earned and deserve.
"When I'm Sixty-Four is an excellent book . . . and makes a bold and workable proposal."Clive Crook, Chronicle of Higher Education
"Teresa Ghilarducci's When I'm Sixty-Four is quite simply the best thing yet written on the retirement crisis facing baby boomers and the larger fragility of our retirement system. Far from defeatist, she proposes an ingenious national plan that will instantly become the reform against which all others must measure up. In clear prose, Teresa Ghilarducci cuts to the essence of an often bewildering subject that affects every American."Robert Kuttner, American Prospect
"Teresa Ghilarducci isn't one for conventional wisdom. In When I'm Sixty-Four [she] argues that a rich nation ought to be able to ensure a secure old age. And she has a radical proposal for making that happen."Pat Regnier, Money Magazine
"What's the difference between saving for retirement, on the one hand, and plain old saving, on the other? Teresa Ghilarducci, an economist at the New School, has a provocative book . . . which forces us to ask that question very seriously."Felix Salmon, Portfolio.com
"What I like about Ghilarducci's proposal is its boldnessthe idea that it is better to create a new model than to keep retrofitting a system that presents unacceptable risk to so many workers."Martha M. Hamilton, Washington Post
"This volume provides a welcome curative to the daily news reports on the imminent retirement crisis facing the US because of falling birthrates, lengthening life spans, uncertain national economic performance, deliberate corporate gutting of programs, wage stagnation, and the potential Social Security fund insolvency. Ghilarducci carefully guides the reader through the morass of claims and counterclaims about the prospects for those entering their 'golden years' in the US. . . . Ghiladrucci's timely book addresses an important public policy issue."D.J. Conger, Choice
"The book reads easily and well throughout, and I like the frequent boxes setting out 'Data to Digest' and 'The Bottom Line.' The diagnosis is powerful and hits many nails on the head."Nicholas Barr, Journal of Economic Literature
"This precise moment in history is probably the ideal one to read Teresa Ghilarducci's When I'm Sixty-Four. . . . Its value to labor educators lies in Ghilarducci's thorough examination of the issue and in her extensive supporting documentation."Judi King, Labor Studies Journal
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Read an ExcerptWhen I'm Sixty-Four The Plot against Pensions and the Plan to Save Them
By Teresa Ghilarducci Princeton University Press
Copyright © 2008 Princeton University Press
All right reserved.
Introduction In the mid-1960s, when the first wave of American baby boomers-the 76 million people born between 1946 and 1962-tripled college enrollments and Medicare legislation was adopted, the Beatles' song "When I'm Sixty-Four," could not, in retrospect, have been more forward-looking.
Since the first Social Security check was sent sixty years ago, Americans losing their hair have been receiving "pension valentines." Today, as the Beatles' first fans are approaching age sixty-four, American workers wonder if the promised pensions, Social Security, and medical care, will materialize in their old age.
In the face of a crumbling pension system, a badly functioning medical insurance system for the aged, and soaring national deficits, policymakers and leaders can find a way to save retirement-a necessary, if now threatened, feature of all civilized democracies-by combining the appropriate governmental, economic, and social ingredients into a new, and newly imagined, retirement system. By mustering the political will and economic intelligence to do this, leaders will not only spare society the travails of the currently damaged system, but will provide generations present and future a new blueprint for maximizing the well-being and social contribution of elderly people-a win-win formula.This book explains how.
Categorically, everyone admits that Social Security has been stunningly successful at halving the elderly's poverty rate and enabling the middle class to retire. The entire pension system, including employer pensions, has been even more successful. Europeans are often surprised that Americans have any guaranteed income programs at all. Even more surprisingly, given this nation's reputation for "do-it-yourself" financial lives, there is widespread acceptance that older Americans, even those who are healthy and still able to work, deserve to retire.
In 1950, a working man could look forward to seven years of retirement time before he died; for women it was about thirteen and a half years. By 2000, on average, men retired for almost fourteen years and women eighteen. Overall, as a nation, we have constructed steady improvements in a very valuable resource-retirement time-and it should be a cause of celebration (see figure 0.1). Nevertheless, powerful forces threaten this vital addition to the quality of workers' lives.
Although most of us value our "leisure," while doing research for this book I discovered revulsion for that word. Friends, reporters, and politicians recoiled from my phrase, "retirement-leisure." Defending retirement-leisure-the kind of retirement where older people can afford to not work-was more challenging than I expected. The financial ability to withdraw voluntarily from the labor force, the ability to rest, and, even to recuperate before dying, is, to workers, a fundamental part of dignified living and a marker for achieving middle-class status. And, if pressed, most economists would admit to expecting that, as civilized societies grow richer, they will create institutions that permit able-bodied people to retire.
However, all people seemed defensive about the notion of retirement, quickly asserting that they wanted to be productive, not shrivel up and die. Nevertheless, the notion that retirement was a last chance to do what one wanted grew sweeter as one contemplated it coming at the time when life is filled with nothing but last chances. Time before death has special proprieties. Chief among them is scarcity, and scarcity always increases value. In Saul Bellow's novel Ravelstein, an older writer reflects on his life-threatening illness; he wants very much for his much younger wife to understand how valuable time is before death:
And Ivan Ilyich also mentions the slow rise of a stone thrown into the air. When it returns to earth it accelerates thirty-two feet per second. You are controlled by gravitational magnetism and the whole universe is involved in this speeding up of your end.-Art is one rescue from this chaotic acceleration. Meter in poetry, tempo in music, form, and color in painting. Nevertheless, we do feel that we are speeding earthward, crashing into our graves. (Bellow, 192)
I used to include this quotation on birthday cards-but very few were amused.
We are deep in a national bargaining session over "socially optimal" retirement. I wrote this book to articulate what is at stake: that the needless fear that retirement is not deserved, nor affordable, is framing the debate and distorting the analysis.
As I was finishing this book in the summer of 2006, a retired United Airline pilot called me, apologetic for taking my time. He told me he lost 68.3% (he rounded to one decimal point!) of his pension after flying thirty-five years for one company. He said, "Except the military, I worked for United about my whole life." He said he made "pretty good" money and "they" told him to put his money toward his retirement. "And now it's gone. How can they do that?" At sixty-one, he needed to find a way to keep his house. Taking retraining classes at the local high school, he created a website as a project for his computer class. He still does not have a job; but he has a website dedicated to "not letting what happened to me happen to other people." He used his much smaller pension to buy the domain name www.protectpensions.org.
This book aims to explain these kinds of pension losses with the hope that they never happen in the future.
Part I explores the undermining of the U.S. retirement income security system, which, despite popular belief, is not caused by Social Security collapsing, but by work-based pensions tottering badly, as many financial risks that workers cannot control are no longer shared by employers and the government, but shifted entirely to workers.
Part II addresses the break from the forty-year trend of older men withdrawing from the labor force. Older workers are being partly pulled into the labor force by more job opportunities, and partly because of their diminishing pensions and health insurance.
Part III identifies who benefits when older people work more. Human-resource consultants warn clients that the supply of teenagers, housewives, and immigrants will dry up, raising workers' bargaining power and causing upward pressure and a squeeze on profits.
The book concludes with proposals for a retirement income policy that finances retirement and distributes it more evenly across workers.
Excerpted from When I'm Sixty-Four by Teresa Ghilarducci
Copyright © 2008 by Princeton University Press. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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James K. Galbraith, University of Texas, Austin
Laura D'Andrea Tyson, University of California, Berkeley
Thomas I. Palley, author of "Plenty of Nothing"
Meet the Author
Teresa Ghilarducci, after having taught economics for twenty-five years at the University of Notre Dame, now holds the Irene and Bernard L. Schwartz Chair of Economic Policy Analysis at the New School for Social Research. She is also the 2006-2008 Wurf Fellow at Harvard Law School. Her books include "Labor's Capital: The Economics and Politics of Private Pensions".
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