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The scandal of vast inequality in retirement pay

Cato the Elder, a Roman senator and historian, once remarked: “Cessation of work is not accompanied by cessation of expenses.” For centuries, retirees have been aware of this unfortunate fact, which led them to demand and, in many cases, secure old age pensions to help provide financial security during their “golden years.” wittner lawrenceDr. Lawrence Wittner

But as indicated in a recently-released report by the Institute for Policy Studies, the financial security of retiring corporate CEOs is far, far greater than the financial security of average Americans.

According to the extensively researched IPS report, A Tale of Two Retirements, 100 corporate CEOs possess company retirement funds totaling $4.7 billion ― an amount equivalent to the entire retirement savings of 41 percent of U.S. families (50 million families, including 116 million Americans).

The retirement funds of these 100 CEOs are also equivalent to those of 75 percent of Latino families, of 59 percent of African-American families, of 55 percent of female-headed households, and of 44 percent of white working class households.

Indeed, the top 100 CEO nest eggs, if averaged, would generate a $253,088 monthly retirement check to these 100 individuals for the rest of their lives. By contrast, workers who had 401(k) pension plans at the end of 2013 had only enough in these plans to pay them an average monthly benefit of $101.

Of course, these were the lucky ones. Among workers 56 to 61 years old, 39 percent had no employer-sponsored retirement plan at all, and would likely depend on Social Security, which pays an average of $1,239 per month, for retirement security.

Of course, these are only averages. When one looks at individuals, the contrasts are even starker.

Glenn Renwick, the Progressive Insurance Co.’s CEO who retired in 2016, receives a monthly retirement check from his company for $1,035,733. Among Walmart’s 1.5 million employees, fewer than two-thirds have a company-sponsored retirement plan and, if they do, it will pay them, on average, only $131 per month.

But Walmart’s CEO, Doug McMillon can expect to receive at least $360,000 per month ― more than 2,700 times the amount a typical Walmart worker with a 401(k) account can expect.

And there’s also CEO David Cote of Honeywell ― a company that has locked out its workers from its factories in Green Island, New York and South Bend, Indiana, for seven months for rejecting a contract that eliminated workers’ pensions ― who receives a monthly retirement check from the company for $908,712.

Or take the case of John Hammergreen, CEO of the McKesson corporation, a drug wholesaling giant. A few months after Hammergreen arrived at McKesson in 1996, the company froze its employee pension fund, closing it to workers who came there in 1997.

Even so, the company launched a lavish Executive Benefit Retirement Account that enriched Hammergreen’s pension with an average of $22,000 a day for the next 20 years. Thus, today he receives a monthly retirement check from the company for $782,339.

Things were not always like this. From 1946 to 1980, a combination of union action and government policy led to the expansion of pension benefits for American workers.

By 1980, 46 percent of private sector workers were covered by defined benefit pensions.
But, in the following decades, declining union strength, corporate attacks on pension funds, and government action resulted in a severe erosion of worker retirement security. By 2011, only 18 percent of private sector workers were covered by defined benefit plans.

As demonstrated by the authors of the IPS report, the growth of economic inequality in retirement provisions resulted from rigging things in favor of CEOS through new rules for pensions, taxes, and executive compensation.  

“Since more than half of compensation is now tied to the company’s stock price,” the authors note, “CEOs have a powerful personal incentive for slashing worker retirement benefits in order to boost the short-term bottom line. Every dollar not spent on employee retiree security is money in the CEO’s pocket.”

Although changes in public policy could close the widening pension gap, such changes do not seem likely to occur while a zealously pro-corporate party controls the White House, Congress, and the courts.

Indeed, as the authors point out, thanks to the shielding of enormous CEO income in tax-deferred accounts, Fortune 500 CEOs will see very substantial gains in their retirement checks if President Donald Trump succeeds in implementing his plan to slash the top marginal income tax rate.

It’s possible that, in the long run, the rising tide of retirement insecurity will spark a revolt challenging the severe economic inequality between corporate CEOs and their American workers.

Until then, however, it’s tempting to propose updating Jonathan Swift’s 18th century satirical suggestion, made in “A Modest Proposal,” that poverty among the poor might be alleviated by selling their babies as food for the rich.

Perhaps, in 21st century America, retirement insecurity might be alleviated by selling elderly workers to the corporate rich, who could use them for the burgers sold by their fast food companies.

Dr. Lawrence Wittner, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is professor of history emeritus at SUNY/Albany.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 28 December 2016 13:03

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Electoral College vs. popular vote should be federal, not state, issue

Several years ago, Dr. James Broussard, an esteemed Lebanon Valley College professor, testified at a time when the Senate was considering legislation to change how our Electoral College votes are determined.folmer mike mugSen. Mike Folmer

Under that proposal, Pennsylvania would have reverted back to the method used at the founding of our Constitutional Republic: two electors (matching the number of our U.S. senators) would have gone to the statewide winner with the remainder proportionally determined, based upon congressional districts chosen by majority vote in each district.

That bill didn’t pass.

Article II, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution establishes how presidential electors are chosen: “Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector.”

Presidents George Washington, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were all elected using this method. However, after Jefferson’s election in 1800 (which was determined by the U.S. House of Representatives after he and his vice president, Aaron Burr, tied in Electoral College votes), states began changing their Electoral College processes. Proportional allocation was abandoned in favor of winner-takes-all.

Opponents at the time argued these changes would allow a majority party to suppress minority voices by giving all Electoral College votes to the candidate winning a majority of votes. They feared their votes would be meaningless. Today, only Nebraska and Maine use proportional voting.

Five times in our history, the winner of the Electoral College didn’t win the popular vote. In 1824, John Quincy Adams not only didn’t win the popular vote, he also didn’t get a majority in the Electoral College. Like Jefferson, he was elected by the U.S. House.

Other candidates who lost the popular vote but won the presidency through the Electoral College included: Rutherford B. Hayes (1876), Benjamin Harrison (1888), and George W. Bush (2000). However, Andrew Jackson ran again in 1828 and defeated President John Quincy Adams. In 1892, Grover Cleveland, who lost to Harrison in 1884, also ran again and won to become the only non-consecutive two-term president.

The most recent election is the fifth time a candidate won the Electoral College but lost the popular vote, resulting in renewed calls to change and/or eliminate the Electoral College.

One plan is the “national popular vote,” where individual states enter into a compact to award all their respective electoral votes to whichever candidate wins the nationwide popular vote. According to National Popular Vote, 11 states have enacted laws to establish compacts.

Whether you support or oppose national popular vote, I believe such a change should be made by amending the U.S. Constitution. The compact clause of the Constitution states: “no state shall, without the consent of Congress enter into any agreement or compact with another state, or with a foreign power.”

Various courts have ruled whenever federal supremacy is threatened, congressional consent is required for a valid compact.

Failure to properly amend the Constitution will cause problems. It would likely be challenged and ultimately decided by the Supreme Court.

More importantly, for far too long the federal government has failed to follow the Constitution — especially the 10th Amendment: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

If you want to change the rules of the game, do it properly — and don’t do it after the fact.

Mike Folmer is a Republican member of the Pennsylvania Senate whose 48th District includes Middletown. His Capitol office telephone number is 717-787-5708. Reach his regional office in Lebanon at 717-274-6735.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 28 December 2016 12:48

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Maddux column: John Glenn was one of our last true American heroes

John Glenn was an American hero.

We don’t have many of those anymore. In a day and age where we tear down people as quickly as we build them up, he might be one of our last.

I cried a few tears Thursday when the news came that he had died, even though his passing was inevitable. He was 95, after all. 

glennPhoto courtesy of Mark BoxleyWhat a life this man led. His accolades are mind-boggling.




War hero as a Marine Corps pilot.

Husband (for more than 70 years!) and father.

And simply a nice person, who I was fortunate enough to meet several times.

He flew 59 combat missions in World War II.

He added 90 more in Korea in the early 1950s.

He broke the transcontinental flight speed record in 1957.

In 1962, he risked life and limb to leave the Earth and do something that would have been unthinkable a decade before, with technology that we would scoff at today. He became the first American to orbit the Earth in 1962, immortalizing him forever. He was a space pioneer in a day when it truly was the final frontier. 

In 1998, at age 77, he became the oldest man in space aboard the shuttle Discovery.

In between those visits to space, he kept himself busy … 24 years in the U.S. Senate (he was still a senator when he went back into space in 1998!). A potential vice presidential candidacy in 1976. A presidential run in 1984. 

In fact, as a 10-year-old, on April 21, 1983, my father took me out of Medill Elementary School in Lancaster, Ohio, and he and I sat in the gym at John Glenn High School in New Concord, Ohio — Glenn’s hometown — and watched him announce his candidacy for president.

His presidential campaign, despite his amazing resume, was hurt by a fatal flaw for candidates even 30 years ago — he simply wasn’t a gifted public speaker.

Yes, he was tarnished a bit as one of the Keating Five — five U.S. senators who were accused of intervening on behalf of Charles Keating in the 1980s, during the savings and loan scandal. Glenn was exonerated, although the Senate Ethics Committee said he had used “poor judgment.”

Still, it was hard not to like and admire John Glenn. 

He was a small-town boy with from New Concord, a great athlete with all-American good looks. His childhood home is now a museum, and I was fortunate enough to tour it years ago when I was the editor of a newspaper about 20 miles away. 

What is striking about it is its simplicity. The home is not large by any stretch. The museum is not gaudy. He was a simple man from a simple upbringing who achieved extraordinary things.

He married his high school sweetheart, Annie, in 1943. She, too, overcame a challenge — a horrible stutter, to the point where she could barely communicate at times. She finally found the proper treatment in 1973 — at age 53 – that helped her overcome it, to the point that she regularly gave public talks. Indeed, John Glenn saw his wife as a hero. What a love story they shared.

And, in one of the wonderful twists of history, Ted Williams — yes, the “Splendid Splinter,” the greatest hitter of all time, the Red Sox outfielder and Hall-of-Famer — was in his Marine squadron during the Korean War.

“Ted flew as my wingman on about half the missions he flew in Korea,” Glenn told when Williams passed away in 2002

How cool is that?

We will not see his like again. With his passing, we have lost a great American. A true hero, in a time when that word is thrown around more than it should be.

“I think John Glenn will be remembered as an actual hero at a time when heroes are often called heroes but are not,” Francis French, the author of many books on the space program's early days, told NPR.

“I think John Glenn is one of those people that's going to stay in the history books,” he continued. “And even the most cynical of history readers is going to go, ‘This guy actually is what everybody says he was.’”

I couldn’t agree more.

I will leave you with some words from John Glenn that he said that day in April 1983 when I was just a young boy. They seem as important now as ever:

“America is more diverse — and infinitely more complex than one community. Yet all Americans share the simple values we learned in this small town — the values of excellence, honesty, fairness, compassion for those who have less, and confidence in facing the future. Those values are truly the heart of the American experiment, and they must be the soul of our government as well.”

Godspeed, John Glenn.

Jason Maddux is editor of the Press And Journal.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 14 December 2016 11:07

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