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Dish It Out

Pension offerings continue to dissolve, but new laws reward employers whose workers pump up their 401(k)s.

This story appears in the November 2006 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

The traditional pension plan has been getting weaker for decades. Defined benefit pensions, in which you collect checks from a company plan based on how long you worked there and what you earned, covered 41 percent of private-sector workers in 1978. Today, the figure is 21 percent-and falling fast. The Pension Protection Act of 2006, despite its white knight of a name, probably sounds the death knell of the traditional plans altogether. Soon enough, only employees and a smattering of union workers will have any hopes of the organization taking care of them in old age.

On that count, this year's pension reform law does help. In the defined contribution retirement plans that are increasingly the norm, contribution means you have to put money into the kitty. But nearly one-third of the employees with access to a 401(k) plan don't contribute; those who do usually fail to put in enough to reach their retirement goals. So, the new law encourages employers to automatically enroll workers in a 401(k) plan unless an employee specifically opts out. The opposite is the case now: You have to opt in. That change alone will push 401(k) contributions significantly higher.

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