Conditions at defined contribution retirement plans may be starting to deteriorate at a steady rate, rather than at a rapidly accelerating rate.

Analysts at the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans, Brookfield, Wis., have published statistics supporting that conclusion in a summary of results of a series of surveys of about 850 IFEBP members, holders of IFEBP’s Certified Employee Benefits Specialist designation, and current participants in the CEBS certification program.

The IFEBP conducted the surveys in October 2008, May 2009 and September 2009.

In October 2008, 28% of the participants said employees were cutting defined contribution plan contributions.

That percentage increased to 44% in May and held steady at about 44% in September, the IFEBP says.

The percentage of survey participants who reported seeing an increase in the number of employees taking hardship withdrawals from defined contribution plan accounts stood at 29% in October 2008, increased to 42% in May, and edged up to 45% in September.

In September, 40% of the participants agreed or strongly agreed that “the worst of the crisis is over,” 27% of the participants disagreed or strongly disagreed with the idea that the worst is over, and 33% were neutral, the IFEBP says.

About 52% of the participants said their employers had reduced head counts through layoffs or other means in the past year, but only 3% said their employers plan to lay off employees in the next 6 months.