February 27, 2012

American Workers Anticipate Further Benefit Reductions: Towers Watson Survey

Employees would trade pay for more security

A growing number of American workers are willing to trade a portion of their pay for more secure and generous retirement and health care benefits, according to a new survey.

Towers Watson’s poll of some 9,200 workers, released Monday, showed that almost half of those surveyed were worried about reductions in their retirement benefits over the next two years.

Towers Watson found that 55% of respondents were willing to pay more out of each paycheck to ensure they had a guaranteed retirement. In 2009, 46% said they were willing to pay more.

Half of respondents said they would trade a portion of their pay to ensure access to health care benefits if they should retire before they became eligible for Medicare benefits, compared with 40% two years ago. And 53% said they would be willing to forgo a portion of their pay in return for more generous benefits.

Older workers are not the only ones concerned about retirement security. The survey found that some of the biggest changes in attitudes toward risk, rewards and security trade-offs have occurred among younger employees and those with a defined benefit plan. The number of DB plan participants younger than 40 leaped to 66% in the current survey from 39% in 2009.

Workers anticipate additional cuts in their retirement and health benefits, the survey found. Forty-four percent said they were worried about reduction to their retirement benefits over the next two years, with 63% of younger DB plan participants especially concerned.

Employees expressed even more anxiety about having to assume greater financial responsibility for their health care costs. Seventy-three percent were worried about higher out-of-pocket health costs and co-pays over the next two years, compared with 67% in 2007, Towers Watson reported.

The survey included these other findings:

  • 64% of those surveyed said escalating health care costs were their biggest concern about retirement security;
  • 56% cited concerns over Social Security or Medicare benefits, and higher prices for necessities;
  • Older employees, women, lower-paid workers and those with health issues were most willing to relinquish control over their retirement investments in exchange for more stability in their retirement benefits over the long term. 
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