As the 2010’s come to a close, I should be looking back on the prior 10 years in awe of what has been achieved in the capital markets that have witnessed a tripling of stock returns using the S&P 500 as a proxy. Furthermore, I’ve often said how truly blessed I am to have found a career in the investment/retirement industry that has now spanned 38+ years, but as I reflect on the last decade I feel almost empty. The changes that I’ve witnessed in our industry have not transformed positively the lives of most plan participants. The on-going elimination of defined benefit plans and the greater use of defined contribution plans has destabilized the retirements for many Americans.
Maybe it is the fact that the last 10-years have treated only a small percentage of Americans favorable? For the “average” American family it is the second consecutive decade that feels lost. Inflation for the bottom 99% of us is greater than that of the top 1%, especially as it relates to day-care, health-care, housing, education, etc. Until recently, there had been little wage growth in the last 20+ years, yet our employees are expected to fund their own retirement. Little legislation has been achieved that actually saves the retirements for our workers. As the legislative can is kicked down the road, more and more Americans are on the verge of losing their promised benefits after years of service and hard work.
Annie Lowrey, a staff writer at The Atlantic, has penned a wonderful article that captures my concerns and sentiments so well. What should be a time to celebrate seems rather a hallow exercise at this time. We need to reflect on what could have been and begin to address the issues that are negatively impacting a wide swath of our population. Retirements are a small part of the equation, despite my nearly singular focus on the issue. We need true leadership emanating from our elected officials in DC. Where have all the statesmen and stateswomen gone? America is a great country with unlimited potential, but if we truly believe that 13+ years of <3% GDP growth is going to get the job done, we are just kidding ourselves! We’ve wasted enough time.
As we embark on 2020, I’d love to see the US Senate finally bring forward the House’s HR 397 Bill (the Butch Lewis Act). This is the only legislation that actually saves pensions for our workers. All other proposals basically drive pension systems into oblivion and rely on the PBGC to pay the crumbs that remain. The U.S. has the financial means to help American families meet their basic needs. It shouldn’t cost one their arm and leg to buy a home, protect their health, and achieve a level of education that would permit them the opportunity to gain employment.
As a broader vision, I want the members of my generation who find themselves with their hands on the levers of influence in our economy and government to remember their responsibility to their fellow man, the helping hands they received from individuals and common resources that propelled their good fortune and to take the steps necessary to return control of our economic growth to the common American family for the good of us all.