WASHINGTON - The Department of Labor and scores of pension groups are making a full court press on the American public and Congress to get them into better shape on saving and retirement issues.
Faced with an ailing Social Security system, stagnation in pension coverage rates and a meager 2% saving rate, Labor Department officials and pension groups decided to put their technical differences aside and work together to rehabilitate the three legs of retirement security.
"The government isn't always the best source of information," said Assistant Secretary of Labor Olena Berg in a speech to the Center for National Policy, Washington. "That's why we're building this coalition of forces."
The Labor Department has rallied support from nearly 60 groups including private, public and union plan sponsors; actuaries; bankers; money managers; life insurers; academics; and pension research representatives. Many have launched education campaigns of their own.
The gist of the Labor Department's message is "beat the clock and prepare for retirement." It created a 10-point pamphlet that talks about how to get ready for retirement. It lists three government agencies and 10 private organizations with phone numbers so people can get more information.
"The key is education," Ms. Berg said. "By providing Americans with the facts they need, we can help change the way people think about and act on their retirement needs."
So far, the department has spent $250,000 to launch the effort. It has printed 37,500 copies of its pamphlet, which officials expect to distribute through the 60 campaign partners and supporters.
The campaign has served as a launch pad for two clearinghouses of information. One is designed to target saving issues; the second, pension retirement issues.
The American Savings Education Clearinghouse, which is being coordinated by the Employee Benefit Research Institute, Washington, is an information exchange on saving initiatives by its member groups. EBRI will house a small library on what ASEC members have done in the past on saving for retirement. The library will include videos, pamphlets, workbooks, computer programs and other resources that show people how to save for retirement, said Kathy Stokes Murray, ASEC's executive director.
Right now, people can send questions and comments to the clearinghouse via the Internet at [email protected] Next steps will include a toll-free number to leave a mailing address to get information, as well as a more advanced Internet exchange that will include a resource list of people and organizations that will provide additional saving information.
The second clearinghouse, the Pension Education Clearinghouse, is more focused on disseminating information on defined benefit plans. It is coordinated by the Pension Rights Center. Member organizations created a pamphlet that explains the three-legged stool needed for retirement security, and offers 10 questions people can ask to find out about their retirement plans. The pamphlet, which will be distributed through the clearinghouse's member organizations, includes a card people can send back to get pension and retirement income publication listings.
"There is a surprising amount of material out there already, but people don't know it," said Karen Ferguson, director of the Pension Rights Center. "We just know that from our experience, there is an avalanche of people in desperate need of this information."
The public is not the only group needing information on retirement issues - Congress does too. On an initiative separate from the Labor Department's campaign, 16 pension organizations have taken on Capitol Hill to educate congressional members and staff from key pension committees on retirement issues.
This group, called the Retirement Savings Network, created an information package with details on different types of retirement plans and tax incentives, as well as information on the 1974 Employee Retirement Income Security Act and other laws affecting pension plans. The package also is being used in seminars with Congress members and staffers.
Overall, the campaign has allowed organizations to tag their own education campaign onto the Labor Department's initiative. The American Council on Life Insurance, for example, plans to send kits to its 640 corporate members. The kits include ACLI's basic principles and goals for retirement savings and gives sample pieces company officials can use in newsletters.
The Commission on Saving & Investment in America, Washington, will focus part of its effort on educating women on their need to save. It will also release a new directory of 110 programs available nationwide that teach people how to save. And by January, the commission will set up a toll-free number for callers to obtain more information on savings issues.
But some organizations, including the American Association of Retired Persons, Washington, are using the education campaign to publicize things they already are doing.
The campaign, and other initiatives, will last as long as the public is interested, collaborators said.
"We're talking about changing behavior substantially, and that's not something you do in a one-month program," said David Wray, president of the Profit Sharing/401(k) Council of America, Chicago.
"There has never been such a concerted and comprehensive effort like this before."