Defending Public Pensions

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As state and local legislatures across the country consider scaling back and changing retirement benefits of public employees, it is imperative that they focus on the real challenges they're facing. The critics are missing the real issue: the retirement security of the coming wave of baby boomers, many of whom are woefully unprepared for the financial demands ahead of them. While a defined contribution plan should be an important part of a retirement portfolio, it should not be the sole source of retirement income.

Consider this: By 2020, one-fourth of the U.S. population will be over the age of 65. The Employee Benefit Research Institute reports that the average balance in a DC plan will be only about $35,000, not enough to live on through retirement.

Having so many people without adequate income will have a devastating impact on the economy. This is the real looming crisis you don't hear much about: a growing segment of the population slipping into poverty.

If we don't have some form of serious conversation about America's retirement systems, one that puts retirement security in a more positive light, then in another decade we'll be wondering what we were thinking attacking a mostly healthy system that has served millions of Americans for decades.

Earl Pomeroy is senior counsel at the law firm Alston & Bird and a former U.S. congressman.

Cathie G. Eitelberg is a senior vice president and national public sector market director for the Segal Co., a benefits, compensation and HR consulting firm.

This work is the opinion of the columnists and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.

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