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Barbara Worthington’s article “Spare them the Details”

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Barbara Worthington’s article “Spare them the Details” examines the changing attitudes about retirement and personal savings that have taken lace in the recent past and particularly how the impact of these changes has been felt by “millennials” — people born between 1979 and 1997. As Worthington points out, “millennials” comprise a significant portion of the population, some “72 million” of them have joined the workforce with what she terms “an uncanny enthusiasm and savvy outlook” and they are also notable for possessing lifelong experience with computers. This generation workers may “live past 100” but may not be as savvy about their retirement as they are about tech or personal health, (Worthington).

Recent legislation — specifically that of the “Pension Protection Act of 2006, which has provided an ideal way for companies to enroll workers automatically into 401(k) plans” — provides the basic thrust for Worthington’s topic in the article. Worthington delves into the issues associated with individual retirement funds, specifically addressing both the desires and needs of the aforementioned “millennials.”  She remarks that most workers (66%) when surveyed responded that they would “feel `grateful` or `optimistic` if employers would automatically enroll them in workplace-provided defined-contribution plans” and that “7 in 10 workers say they favor an employer automatically enrolling them in a plan and setting up contributions through payroll deduction” and this, Worthington assets, indicates a failing faith by young workers in Social Security.

Worthington greatly favors the Pension Protection Act and in fact calls it “`a great safe harbor` for millennials, America`s newcomers to the workforce,” and the evidence she cites strongly supports the idea that “Employers are gearing up to ensure that millennials, displaying increasing interest in retirement saving, find the information, tools and answers they need,” although it is unclear from the article, per se, how this information is made available, (Worthington).

The basic question posed by Worthington’s article is whether or not Social Security is fading away as a viable option for retirement for an entire generation of young workers. That they evidently belive Social Security to be a failing system is demonstrated by the rising participation rates in the aforementioned employer sponsored pension programs. However, Worthington’s article cites no hard evidence to predict or demonstrate the probable collapse of Social Security; rather, the article is concerned with the growing perceptions and beliefs of a significant portion of the American workforce, her termed “millennials” who are opting for retirement plans which are — to their minds — more secure than Social Security.

The benefits accrued by automatic enrollment in company sponsored pension plans extends to the corporate sponsors as well as the workers, themselves. The benefits to corporations include worker security and stability and many companies are “looking for innovative ways to structure plan investments” examples of which which Worthington identifies as “target-date lifestyle options, presenting several investment choices put in place to amass funds in order to be ready for distribution at a specified date in the future” (Worthington).

Basically, diversity and choice are the keystones of many of pension plans endorsed by Worthington’s article. The broad scope of freedom available to workers under many of the outlines pension plans provides not only functionality, but transparency. Unlike Social Security which remains at a far-removed level from an individual worker’s participation or influence, pension plans sponsored under the Pension Protection Act would remain “open and transparent, with opportunities for workers to opt out of their choices,” and in this way retain a measure of control over their finances and financial opportunities.

The importance of maintaining individual control is to be able to opt out of bad choices and into good choices, financially, for the individual worker. This will lead to higher returns and a more stable investment strategy long-term, provided by the participation in automatic enrollment into the pension fund, rather than in a pay-reduction which is sent to a federal fund which is then out of the individual worker’s control Worthington portrays the “millinials” as deeply suspicious of the efficacy of Social Security and eager to participate in alternative plans for retirement and pension savings due to this deep suspicion.

Worthington’s article examines the benefits — but not really the down-sides — to the issue of automatic enrollment in pension funds. Her argument is very compelling but seems perhaps a bit one-sided and maybe too optimistic. At the very last, the article demonstrates why alternatives to Social Security are not only worth exploring — they are already being explored quite robustly and will influence an entire generation of American workers.

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