Failed Policy — The 401(k) Shrinks In A Growing EconomySeptember 5th, 2013 12:04 pm David Cay Johnston
Disturbing new evidence that government policies are propelling us toward a poorer future turns up in a first-ever government examination of retirement savings plans like 401(k)s.
The report, from the Internal Revenue Service, shows that even though the economy is improving, the number of workers saving out of their paychecks for old age is shrinking. So is the amount they save, down 6 percent in real terms from 2008 to 2010.
Two-thirds of taxpayers with jobs saved nothing in retirement plans.
Among twenty-somethings, only 1 in 8 or so saved.
While chock full of important new facts, this pioneering IRS report has not prompted a single news report except for this column at The National Memo. How can it be that the major newspapers, wire services and broadcast outlets all missed this?
The answer is simple: Wall Street pours a lot of money into keeping financial journalists focused where it wants attention. That most certainly is not on groundbreaking first-time reports like this one from the IRSStatistics of Income division.
With the economy supposedly on the mend, we would expect to see the number of people saving part of their pay for old age rising, not falling. And we would expect people to save more of their pay.
But the number of people with work is down, too, by 3.8 million from 2008 to 2010 as measured in the IRS report.
That the number of workers fell more than the number saving may seem like good news, but it misses the larger point that for more than a decade the U.S. population has been growing much faster than jobs.
Since 1999 the median wage, when adjusted for inflation, has been stuck at a bit north of $500 per week. Average wages have grown, but that is due to raises for those making $100,000 to more than $50 million, W-2 wage reports show.
The data also show that, to the extent Americans do have retirement plans, they tend to be used by older workers, who usually earn more and are not burdened by student loans.
Census surveys show that only a third of workers in their twenties have any form of retirement plan at work, compared to 62 percent of workers in their fifties.
But having a retirement plan and actually getting benefits are far from the same. Among all adult workers, only 43 percent say they have a vested right to either their own money they saved or money their employer set aside for them.