The world economic crisis helped reduce U.S. employee participation in retirement plans in 2008 to 40.4% of all workers, down 1.1 percentage points from the previous year, according to an EBRI study.
Also, the percentage of workers in retirement plans could slip further in 2009 and 2010, according to the Employee Benefit Research Institute.
The participation of full-time, full-year wage and salary workers ages 21 to 64 also dropped 0.5 percentage points to 54.8% in 2008.
Craig Copeland, senior EBRI research associate and author of the study, said in an interview that participation was higher in the 1990s compared to the 2000s because of better economic conditions.
Aside from a slight uptick in 2003, the percentage of worker participation has declined steadily since 1999, when 60.4% of full-time, full-year wage and salary workers ages 21 to 64 were enrolled in a retirement plan.
Participation rates could drop as much as 4 percentage points cumulatively over the next couple years, similar to the decline seen from 1999 to 2002, Mr. Copeland said.
“There is going to be a core percentage of workers vital to any business,” he said, noting that companies are less likely to provide match incentives to less vital employees during tough economic times, which could lead to lower participation.
Mr. Copeland said newly frozen DB plans and auto-enrollment laws also could have the effect of canceling out any increases or decreases in participation levels.