NU Online News Service, Oct. 9, 6:45 p.m. – U.S. workers at companies with fewer than 100 employees are far more likely to participate in some kind of retirement plan today than they were 10 years ago.

Patrick Purcell, a social legislation researcher at the Congressional Research Service, illustrates the growth in small-business retirement plan participation rates in a CRS report on pensions and retirement savings plans that was released Oct. 7.

One table shows that participation rates for workers between the ages of 25 and 64 at companies with 100 or more employees hovered around 70% between 1992 and 2001 and may have suffered a significant slump in 2001.

Because of growth in the workforce, the actual number of plan participants at big and midsize employers increased 22% between 1992 and 2001, to 28.6 million. But the plan participation rate at big and midsize employers fell to 68.6% in 2001, down from 70.4% in 2000 and down from 70.1% a decade earlier.

Perhaps because of the spread of defined-contribution retirement plans and new, simplified types of defined-benefit plans, the proportion of workers participating in plans at companies with 25 to 99 employees increased to 48.4% in 2001, from 42.3% in 1992, while the actual number of participants jumped 42%, to 5.1 million.

The picture was even brighter at companies with fewer than 25 employees.

Even “in 2001, workers in small businesses still were much less likely than employees of large firms to work for an employer that sponsored a pension or retirement savings plan,” Purcell writes in his report.

But the proportion of workers at small companies participating in retirement plans increased to 29.1%, from 22.6%, and the number of participants soared 84%, to 5 million.

The Congressional Research Service does not publish its studies on a public Web site. BenefitsLink.com Inc., Winter Park, Fla., has posted a copy of the pensions report on its Web site, at http://benefitslink.com/articles/rl30122.pdf