Another Pension Fund Goes South After the Great Recession

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Here’s the latest big pension fund in trouble:

More than a quarter of a million truckers, retirees and their families could soon see their pension benefits severely cut — even though their pension fund is still years away from running out of money.

….Like many other pension plans, the Central States Pension Fund suffered heavy investment losses during the financial crisis that cut into the pool of money available to pay out benefits. While the stock market has recovered since then, the improvements were not enough to make up for the shortfall….That imbalance left the fund paying out $3.46 in pension benefits for every $1 it received from employers. The shortfall has resulted in the fund paying out $2 billion more in benefits than it receives in employer contributions each year.

One of the big criticisms of 401(k) style retirement plans is that they can lose a bundle when the stock market tanks. And sure enough, that’s exactly what happened during the Great Recession. The value of 401(k) plans fell dramatically, causing a lot of pain for people who were close to retirement.

But don’t let that make you nostalgic for the good old days of defined-benefit pensions. Sure, they promise a steady retirement income, but promises are only as good as the money to back them up. This means that pension funds which lost a lot of money during the Great Recession are in no better shape than 401(k) plans that did the same. There’s no magic here.

What’s more, 401(k) plans have rebounded since the depths of the recession: taking into account both their losses and their subsequent gains during the recovery, the average 401(k) balance has grown more than 10 percent per year between 2007 and 2013. Apparently that’s not the case for the Central States Pension Fund. Perhaps those much-maligned 401(k) plans are a better retirement vehicle than their critics give them credit for?

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