Thursday, May 12, 2016

Pension Benefits Will Be Cut!

Central States Pension Fund Breaks Its Promise
The Central States Pension Fund which represents more than 400,000 International Brotherhood of Teamster union members, retirees and survivors who work for dozens of employers are in trouble. The fund like many across the country is in big trouble. Each passing day the fund is bleeding about $5 million in cash and desperately needs relief to avoid insolvency. We were often led to believe pensions are a promise carved in stone however, this has proven to be a myth. Pensions and promises will be broken so get ready for more pain. This is especially true in the public sector where the 25 largest U.S. public pensions face about $2 trillion in unfunded liabilities

Five months before national elections, more than 100 members of Congress lined up in opposition to a proposal that would have reduced monthly benefits currently being paid to pensioners by 22%. This is "on average", some retirees could be hit with up to a 70% reduction. If Americans took the time to stand back and look at the bigger picture they will see the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) an independent agency of the United States government responsible for acting as the nation’s "safety net" for failed pensions is also in trouble. When a fund fails this agency is expected to take control of its assets and dole them out to its pensioners in the coming years. The ugly truth is the PBGC is not a rock and is in need of its own bailout. This so-called government agency "independent or not" has total assets of about $88 billion and liabilities of $164 billion.

Kenneth Feinberg Rejects Cuts, Now What?
In regard to the Central States Pension Fund and its application to slash benefits, Treasury Department Special Master, Kenneth Feinberg delivered a very harsh rebuke. This was welcomed and greeted with relief by 270,000 U.S. households that faced drastic reductions in their living standards starting in July if the retirement plan’s application to slash benefits is accepted. The $16.1 billion Central States Pension Fund is teetering but has not yet collapsed. The fact that even during its best years the fund draws down its capital is a clear sign that it and many other pension funds will be unable to fulfill the promises they have made. 

Feinberg also criticized the massive 8,000 page Central States application for failing to meet the law’s requirement that it “be written so as to be understood by the average person participating in the fund. He pointed to one 98-word sentence that includes four critical terms, the definitions of which are not contained in the notices, but rather in cross-referenced documents that are not attached. One point Feinberg makes clear is that few union employees can be expected to have the legal, accounting and actuarial resources the pension plan’s administrators did in drafting the document. Ironically, one of Feinberg’s own sentences amounted to a 110-word lecture. A serious matter remains, however, after those unhappy with the Central States Pension Fund have voiced their opposition to cutting benefits and facing reality, the fact is the pension fund simply does not have enough money.

In recent years pension funds have not been able to generate the earnings and high returns that they had predicted and forecast. Now that interest rates have fallen and growth has slowed it will be even more difficult. Joshua Gotbaum, President Obama’s former head of the PBGC from 2010 to 2014, voiced his unhappiness with Washington leaders and their failure to confront this reality when he said. “I am disappointed that theTreasury chose to use its discretion under the law to undermine the purpose of the law.” Gotbaum continued, “No one wants to admit that pension benefits have to be cut, and therefore, in public, no one wants to be seen as supporting anything that cuts benefits. However, unless some (Central States) benefits are cut, all are cut.”

While it could be said that several ways exist to cheat or rob those who paid into pensions for years it would be an understatement, more ways exist than you could imagine. One reader on another site compared pensions to a Ponzi scheme where benefits are paid out to its investors from new capital paid to the operators by new investors, rather than from profit earned through legitimate sources. I fear the future will prove him mostly right. We are only beginning to see the tip of the iceberg when it comes to this growing problem and just how many of these schemes are underfunded. It should be noted this is not a problem only in America, but it exists all over the world. Remember the PBGC, America's safety net for failed pensions has total assets of about $88 billion and liabilities of $164 billion, this is an indication of how dire the situation is.

Footnote;  A prior article dealing with the issue of underfunded pension funds can be found below.


  1. Playing directly into the failure of pension is that much of wealth is stored in paper form, It could be said that "paper wealth" is merely a promise of future value. Unfortunately, this leaves much of society and many rich individuals vulnerable to rapid financial loss if the tides of fortune shift or if values rapidly change.

    People tend to avoid tangible assets in their control because they are often inconvenient. Valuables can be a pain to have about and they often need to be insured which also calls attention to their existence. More on the danger this creates in the article below.

  2. Thank you so much Bruce for sharing this informative post on Pension Benefit.

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