Over the past generation of economic life, the U.S. economy undertook a grand experiment in making defined-contribution (DC) pension plans such as 401(k)s, often financed directly by workers’ savings themselves, the primary vehicle of private retirement security. This experiment has decisively failed. Overall pension coverage has not increased, and fewer Americans are in defined-benefit (DB) plans (think company pensions). The DB plans crowded out by DC plans were more secure, providing a guaranteed income for life that was not subject to the vagaries of the stock market. They were also much more equal than DC plans because they were employer-funded and participation was automatic (rather than workers bearing most of the costs and all of the risks).
Nearly half of working-age families have nothing saved in retirement accounts, and the median working-age family had only $5,000 saved in 2013. Meanwhile, families in the 90th percentile of retirement savings had $274,000 in retirement, and the top 1 percent of families had $1,080,000 or more (not shown on chart). These huge disparities reflect a growing gap between the haves and the have-nots since the Great Recession, as accounts with smaller balances have stagnated while larger ones have rebounded.
Twelve more charts from the EPI showing the difference between the economy we have now and the economy we would have.