NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Pension Plans Often Unavailable At Small Firms

December 9, 1998

Next year, Congress and the White House are expected to explore new ways to encourage small companies to offer pension plans to their workers. While most big companies offer retirement options, small firms often can't afford them or are put off by the complexity of the federal rules governing them.

  • As of 1993, only 20 percent of firms with fewer than 25 workers offered retirement plans -- and only about 15 percent of workers took advantage of them.
  • Only 50 percent of those at firms with 25 to 99 workers had access to company-sponsored retirement plans.
  • But 85 percent of workers at companies with 100 or more workers were offered retirement packages.
  • All told, retirement options are unavailable to 25 million workers at small firms.

Experts say those not covered are probably planning on funding their retirement from personal savings and Social Security -- with the latter only expected to provide between 27 percent and 42 percent of replacement income for most workers.

About one-third (35 percent) of smaller companies without retirement plans cite the red tape involved as the major reason they don't offer such options, according to a survey by the Employee Benefit Research Institute. Some 51 percent named uncertain profits and 51 percent said their employees would rather get higher wages or other benefits. Experts say health benefits are a much higher priority for most workers.

Business owners want Congress to revise two types of complicated rules. One caps the share of income that company pensions can match for their top earners. The other forces companies to give a 3 percent match to every employee's account if at least 60 percent of the assets in the plan are held by the highest-paid employees.

Source: Laura M. Litvan, "Filling a Small-Firm Pension Gap," Investor's Business Daily, December 9, 1998.


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