Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Retirement Plan Participation Declining? No, says EBRI

The percentage of workers who participate in a retirement plan is declining, according to the Current Population Survey. Don't believe it, says the Employee Benefit Research Institute.

In an ongoing battle with the redesigned Current Population Survey, EBRI's Craig Copeland analyzes the supposed decline in retirement participation recorded by the CPS and argues that something is very wrong with the survey's data. Reporting on this problem has become an annual undertaking by Copeland. This is his third analysis since the CPS was redesigned, and no resolution seems to be in sight. The Demo Memo posts about his earlier reports can be found here and here.

According to the Current Population Survey, the percentage of full-time, full-year workers who participate in a retirement plan fell from 54.5 percent in 2013—before the CPS was redesigned to better capture retirement income—to just 41.0 percent in 2016. Among workers aged 55 to 64, participation fell from 57.1 percent in 2013 to 48.1 percent in 2016.

These figures are at odds with rising participation rates found in other government surveys, says Copeland, such as the Bureau of Labor Statistics' National Compensation Survey. Among private-sector workers at establishments with 500 or more employees, the NCS found a stable 76 percent participating in a retirement plan from 2013 to 2016. The CPS found only 47 percent participating in 2016 (after the redesign), down from 64 percent in 2013 (before the redesign). A study of IRS data confirms stability in retirement plan participation rather than the decline charted by the CPS.

"Rather modest modifications could be made within the CPS questionnaire along the lines of other federal government surveys to improve the retirement plan participation estimates," concludes Copeland. "Until that time, any person or organization using the data or those reading analyses from the CPS data need to be aware of the issues with the data. The estimates from the most recent surveys could easily be misconstrued as erosions in coverage, as opposed to an issue with the design of the survey."

Source: Employee Benefit Research Institute, Current Population Survey: Issues Continue for Retirement Plan Participation and Retiree Income Estimates

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