Retirement & Financial Planning Report

Defined benefit retirement programs are continuing to erode in the private sector even as they have held up in the federal government, and federal employees in general also have saved more on average through their defined contribution programs.

Those trends were underscored in a recent examination of retirement benefits programs by the Urban Institute, which focused on trends in the private sector including the well-documented movement away from defined benefit programs that pay lifetime annuities, as do FERS and CSRS. The percentage of workers covered by such plans has been on a steady decline for more than 25 years, falling from 42 to 19 percent in that time.


Participation in defined contribution programs such as 401(k) plans–the equivalent to the TSP–in the private sector increased in that time from 40 to 51 percent, it said.

“With DB pensions, employers bear the responsibility for ensuring that employees receive pension benefits. In contrast, DC retirement accounts are owned by employees. Workers have to actively decide to participate in the plan, how much to contribute, which investments to put their money in, and whether to take benefits as an annuity or lump sum payment at retirement,” it said. “With DC retirement accounts, workers bear the responsibility for their own financial security. This requires that individuals make informed and forward-looking decisions every step of the way.”

It said that while defined contribution plans “have the potential to provide retirees with substantial retirement wealth,” the typical 401(k) account balance was only about half of the more than $100,000 average federal employee TSP account.