Are Pension Cuts Snuffing Out Workers' Dreams?

Margo Bryerton is looking forward to retirement. She wants to take her granddaughter to Ireland, a place Bryerton always has dreamed of going.

"My family came from there," she says, "and I really expected that that would happen after I retired."

But now, Bryerton says she can't afford it, because the company where she has worked for 17 years, Verizon, has frozen its pension plan.

"I believed that I worked for a company that was solid and stable," she says, "and that by keeping my commitments to them that they would keep their commitments to me. And now I find out there never really was a commitment."

Steel companies and airlines were among the first to begin freezing pensions in order to stay afloat. But now, healthy companies are doing it -- in order to bolster their bottom line. And the message for workers is clear: It's up to them now to look after their own retirements.

Many Companies Cut Pensions

Verizon, IBM and Sears are just a few of the corporations to freeze their pensions in the past few years.

Workers still will get their pensions when they leave. But their benefits will be much less because they will no longer be based on their "final years" on the job, when salaries are usually highest.

"This spells doom for the retirement security of, particularly, older employees," says John Hotz, deputy director of the Pension Rights Center, a consumer rights organization.

According to a new study by Hewitt Associates, a human resources consulting firm, 21 percent of the nation's companies plan to freeze their pensions at current levels, and 17 percent will eliminate them altogether for new workers, saving billions of dollars in benefits.

Bryerton's company, Verizon, says it is just trying to stay competitive. In a statement to ABC News, the company says it is "restructuring benefits in line with the way our industry has changed."

Verizon has increased contributions to its employee 401(k) plans. But Hotz says that's not enough.

"A 401(k) plan isn't going to get a vast majority of people to the retirement goals they need to be at," Hotz says.

What Workers Can Do

Financial advisers suggest workers facing pension problems:

put as much into their 401(k) plans as possible,

set aside additional savings in an IRA,

open a heath savings account to cover medical expenses,

and consider working more years.

That's what Bryerton says she's going to have to do. She is also taking up a second job and planning on selling her home.

"I'm afraid that the things that I had dreamed about, the things that I had hoped for, the things that I taught my children, are gone," she said.

Millions of Americans may end up facing the same dilemma as Bryerton. Those most at risk are the salaried employees at the companies cutting pensions -- especially those in their 40s and 50s.

ABC News' Gigi Stone originally reported this story Feb. 18, 2006, for "World News Tonight."

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