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Retirement Heist: How Companies Plunder and Profit from the Nest Eggs of American Workersby Ellen Schultz
Synopses & Reviews
"'As far as I can determine there is only one solution [to the CEO's demand to save more money]', the HR representative wrote to her superiors. 'That would be the death of all existing retirees.'"
It's no secret that hundreds of companies have been slashing pensions and health coverage earned by millions of retirees. Employers blame an aging workforce, stock market losses, and spiraling costs- what they call "a perfect storm" of external forces that has forced them to take drastic measures.
But this so-called retirement crisis is no accident. Ellen E. Schultz, award-winning investigative reporter for the Wall Street Journal, reveals how large companies and the retirement industry-benefits consultants, insurance companies, and banks-have all played a huge and hidden role in the death spiral of American pensions and benefits.
A little over a decade ago, most companies had more than enough set aside to pay the benefits earned by two generations of workers, no matter how long they lived. But by exploiting loopholes, ambiguous regulations, and new accounting rules, companies essentially turned their pension plans into piggy banks, tax shelters, and profit centers.
Drawing on original analysis of company data, government filings, internal corporate documents, and confidential memos, Schultz uncovers decades of widespread deception during which employers have exaggerated their retiree burdens while lobbying for government handouts, secretly cutting pensions, tricking employees, and misleading shareholders. She reveals how companies:
"The retirement crisis is no accident, claims Wall Street Journal investigative reporter Schultz; large companies have played a significant role in its creation to protect the wealth of its top executives. When GE, IBM, Verizon, and others slashed pensions and medical benefits for millions of American retirees, they pointed fingers everywhere but at themselves — but who was really at fault? Pension funds were not bleeding the companies of cash. GE hadn't contributed a cent to the workers' pension plans since 1987, but still had enough money to cover all current and future retirees. Executive pensions at GE, with a billion obligation, are a drag on earnings. These are largely hidden, however, lumped in with the figures for regular pensions. Schultz's methodical cataloguing of these abuses paints a highly unflattering picture of companies that cut benefits to boost earnings, lay off older workers who are entering the years in which their pensions will spike, inflate retiree health benefits to boost profits, lobby for laws that keep the system inequitable, hoard death benefits, and fire whistle-blowers. Heartbreaking stories of destitute seniors are juxtaposed with the obscene surpluses in pension funds for executives ( billion at GE; billion at Verizon; billion at AT&T) — and unless the global retirement industry is reined in, Schultz points out, it will continue to capture retirement wealth earned by many to enrich a relative few, and within our lifetimes, 'retirement' will inevitably revert to what it was in the 1930s and before. A fascinating, troubling exposÃ© and a sobering call to arms. (Sept.)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
An award-winning "Wall Street Journal" reporter draws back the curtain on one of the biggest yet least understood scandals in decades and exposes how corporations manipulate retirement plans for their benefit.
Winner of the 2012 Helen Bernstein Book Award for Excellence in Journalism
Hundreds of companies have slashed pensions and health coverage for millions of retirees, claiming that a “perfect storm” of stock market losses, aging workers, and spiraling costs have forced them to take drastic measures.
But this so-called retirement crisis is no accident. Ellen E. Schultz, an award-winning investigative reporter formerly of The Wall Street Journal, reveals how large employers and the retirement industry have all played a huge and hidden role in the death spiral of American pensions and benefits.
A little over a decade ago, pension plans were fat. But companies used slick accounting and dubious loopholes to turn their pension plans into piggy banks, tax shelters, and profit centers. As pensions weakened, companies slashed benefits for workers while doling out gargantuan pensions to their top executives.
Drawing on original analysis of company data, government filings, and confidential memos, Schultz uncovers decades of widespread deception during which employers exaggerated their retiree burdens while tricking employees, misleading shareholders, and lobbying for taxpayer handouts.
An expose of the ways corporations manipulate retirement plans at employee expense.
It's no secret that hundreds of companies, from GM to IBM, have been slashing pensions and health coverage for millions of retirees. Employers blame an aging workforce, stock market losses, and spiraling costs. But the so-called retirement crisis is no demographic accident- and large corporations have played a significant and hidden role in creating it.
Award-winning Wall Street Journal reporter Ellen E. Schultz draws back the curtain from one of the biggest and least understood scandals in decades. She shows how companies:
created the pension crisis by plundering billions from their pension plans
cut pensions for millions of midlevel, middle-aged workers, but used the savings to boost special executive pensions
purchase life insurance policies on employees and collect death benefits when they die-without telling them or their families
This is a must read for all who are concerned about their financial future and that of the whole country.
About the Author
Ellen E. Schultz is an investigative reporter for The Wall Street Journal who has covered the so-called retirement crisis for more than a decade. Her reporting has led to Congressional hearings, proposed legislation, and investigations by the Treasury and the GAO.
Schultz has won dozens of journalism awards for economics, financial, and investigative reporting, including three Polk Awards, two Loeb awards, and a National Press Club award. In 2003, Schultz was part of a team of Wall Street Journal reports awarded the Pulitzer Prize, for articles on corporate scandals. She lives in New York City.
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