According to a survey by the benefits consulting firm Towers Watson, workers would rather have retirement security than a vast array of other benefits, including larger salaries, more vacation time, and bigger bonuses:
In several head-to-head questions, researchers asked whether workers would prefer it if their employers offered them a guaranteed retirement benefit (essentially a pension) or other perks. A large plurality – 49% — chose the pension over the opportunity to earn a bigger bonus. (Just 26% picked the bonuses, while the rest didn’t express a preference.) The pension also beat out paid vacation and a better chance at a promotion by similar margins. Guaranteed retirement income was also more popular than bigger salary hikes, although there the outcome was a closer 38% to 33%.
Unfortunately for American workers, retirement benefits are vanishing at a dizzying pace. According to research by Pulitzer Prize-winning authors Donald L. Barlett and James W. Steele, 84,350 pension retirement plans have been eliminated since 1985. In 1998, a majority of Americans over age 60 received pension payments. By 2010, just 43 percent did. In the private sector, 38 percent of workers received pensions in 1979, which fell to 15 percent in 2010.
As ThinkProgress’ Travis Waldron noted, “Estimates show that more than half of middle class workers are likely to outlive their retirement savings, and half of all American workers don’t even have a retirement plan at work.” Pensions are much more likely to keep retirees out of poverty than other retirement plans, including 401(k)s. In fact, the median value of 401(k)s in the U.S. in 2010 was less than $18,000, meaning that, “for most working people, the amount in their 401(k) account would pay them less than $80 a month for life.”