As another Christmas approaches, I’m reminded of the beloved story A Christmas Carol. At the end of Charles Dickens’ novella (and its many adaptions), Ebenezer Scrooge showed kindness to his underpaid employee and his family. But we can’t help but wonder what happened to Bob Cratchit after the holiday season ended? 

Does Cratchit get paid a livable wage? How about paid family sick leave and healthcare benefits? Does he get a retirement plan?  


Who knows for sure? Nevertheless, if today’s Scrooge-like CEOs offer any indication, then the answer is no. They’re more likely to give a Christmas turkey than a retirement plan to the men and women who help them earn record profits.  

Considering the potential impact the retirement crisis will have on our country, it’s time for many private sector employers to be visited by the three ghosts of retirement. 

The Ghost of Retirement Past would take wealthy corporate executives on a trip to the years when any American who worked hard and played by the rules could expect to enjoy a dignified retirement. It would remind them that retirement was once part of the compensation packages most employers offered their employees. Under a three-legged system, consisting of traditional defined-benefit pensions, Social Security and personal savings, working people like Cratchit could spend their retirement enjoying hobbies, visiting their grandchildren, or just going to a movie. Sadly, those days are gone. 

The Ghost of Retirement Present would show how these CEOs have morphed into a modern-day version of Scrooge. Despite earning record profits, many wealthy corporations have acted very miserly. They’ve pushed down wages so their Cratchits work longer hours for less money. They’ve chipped away at employee benefits that would allow more family time with Tiny Tim.  

In addition to eliminating the pension working people fought hard for, our Scrooges have gone further by joining with pension critics, billionaire extremists and anti-public sector ideologues to block everyday working Americans from achieving a secure retirement through aggressive campaigns to dismantle public pension systems and Social Security. 

As a result, nearly 40 million working-age households do not have any retirement account assets. The availability of retirement savings is often tied to income for workers who have fewer savings options than previous generations. For Cratchit and other underpaid people, there are only two retirement options: retire in poverty or work until they die.  

Meanwhile, more than half of Fortune 500 CEOs are covered by a company-sponsored pension. In 2014, the 100 largest CEO retirement funds were worth a combined $4.9 billion. That’s equal to the entire retirement account savings of more than 50 million American families and more than 116 million individuals. 

The Ghost of Retirement Yet to Come would offer both a warning and a piece of advice to these Scrooges: don’t stand in the way of solutions to the retirement security crisis looming over our country. In California, we have started to take action with the Secure Choice program, but much more is needed.  

There’s no way to predict the full impact of America’s retirement predicament will have, but we already have a retirement poverty crisis that is getting worse with each year. The Census Bureau’s latest poverty data show 1 in 3 Americans 65 and older has an income below 200 percent of poverty. Nearly 2 out of 3 seniors rely on Social Security benefits for most of their income. However, Social Security alone isn’t enough for a secure retirement. In 2014, the average monthly benefit was about $1,300 for millions of retirees. 

The economic challenges seniors face are often passed on to their adult children who already face difficulty providing for their own families let alone saving for retirement. This vicious cycle will only worsen as retirement options dwindle for working people. Younger Americans who leave college with $30,000 in student debt will end up with $325,000 less in their retirement account than those who graduated debt free.  

Now more than ever, it’s critical for these CEOs to see the error of their ways. They need to join with working mothers, fathers, grandparents and Millennials standing together for retirement security; not use their power and money to stand in the way of solutions.

Walker is president of Service Employees International Union Local 1000, California’s largest union of state workers. She chairs SEIU’s National Retirement Security Committee and is a member of the Secure Choice Investment Board.