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February 24th, 2009
11:35 AM ET

Why do we think we are "entitled"?

Douglas MacKinnon
The Baltimore Sun

One of the most dangerous words in the English language is "entitlement." It helped create, and continues to fuel, the current economic meltdown. It underscores a dangerous lack of accountability and honesty by some of our leaders – and ourselves.

A county government official recently told me that just the "pension obligations owed to firefighters and police" were keeping him up at night. One thing that so many large employers have in common – from car companies, to the U.S. Postal Service, to local governments – is massive pension obligation that are wreaking havoc on their bottom lines and threatening their viability.

But why should anyone be "entitled" to a pension? The fact is, the vast majority of Americans have no access to a pension, do not expect one, and will never get one. And if they don't get a pension for the hard work and long hours they put in, why should a shrinking minority be "entitled" to one?

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Filed under: 360° Radar • Economy
soundoff (8 Responses)
  1. Steven

    People are entitled to what they worked for, like employees are entitled to their pay. If the agreement of a pension plan upon employment made the employee contend with a lower wage offered by the job, then the pension becomes part of the earnings. Why would anyone not be entitled to what they have earned? In every paycheck, a predetermined amount is deducted as contribution towards Social Security. Although these monies contributed are not set aside specifically for the contributor but helped pay for retirees already receiving Social Security checks, it is part of an earned wage. Although the law has allowed the government to impose mandatory contributions to this fund, Social Security is not Income Tax. The Fed is just undertaking stewardship and disbursement of this fund. This money does belong to the contributors. Why are the contributors not entitled to this money? That is just like saying the employee who made regular contributions to his/her 401K is not actually entitled to the money but is left up to the good graces of the fund management company to dispense. Mr. MacKinnon, I have trouble tracking your rationale.

    February 25, 2009 at 2:16 am |
  2. GF, Los Angeles

    A pension and a 401k are two vastly different things. A pension usually guarantees a certain amount of money upon retirement whereas a 401k a person is guaranteed nothing. State workers here in LA get almost 80% of the salary each year as a pension. In a private sector – that scenario no longer exists. The 401k is nothing but a gamble. To become a worker for the state or even a congressman they are guaranteed a pension. The rest of us have to fend for ourselves. The sad part is those pensions are funded by us the taxpayer.

    February 24, 2009 at 5:59 pm |
  3. c,ca

    Sorry Mr. MacKInnon, but your article hit me the wrong way.

    My husband and I never felt that we were entitled to anything. That's why we have both worked our butts off for thirty years. We raised three kids who are now professionals, because we scrimped and saved and took out student loans to send them to college.

    We have lived frugally, made all of our payments on time, and lived in a modest home in an average neighborhood. We socked away savings in a 401K, not thinking just of ourselves, but thinking of our kids' futures. We planned on helping them get a good start in life and buy homes for themselves.

    Now, through no fault of our own – it's gone! We can forget about that early retirement. Forget about those travel plans. Forget about helping the kids pay off those college loans because we have nothing left. And now you want to deny us Social Security, too.

    You can quote Eisenhower all you want, "....the fault is mine alone", NO – the fault is not mine. If you worked for Bob Dole, then I guess it's safe to assume that you are a Republican who is attempting to shift the blame away from the Republican party and their failed policies for the last eight years. It's not going to work.

    I don't blame the Union workers, I don't blame people who got into upside down mortgages, and I sure as hell don't blame myself. Don't tell us to take responsibility -I've been responsible all my life. Why don't YOU, the party of George W. Bush take some responsibility for this.

    February 24, 2009 at 5:18 pm |
  4. Orayane

    I AM entitled to my pension. It was part of the package presented to me to take the job. It isn't lavish by any means, but it is part of my retirement plans.

    To me it is no different than how an employer is offering to cover (or not) your health insurance or your 401K.

    I accepted a reduced salary with the knowledge of the pension plan... if not, then we need to renegotiate. Not all pension plans are equal and we are in no way getting some of the types of money that I have been seeing in the news.

    February 24, 2009 at 5:10 pm |
  5. EKSwitaj

    The problem isn't that some people get pensions; the problem is that so many of us won't. To imply that somehow, people believing they should have money to live off of in old age caused the economic crisis (rather than irresponsible lending practices and Wall Street scams) is just bizarre.

    February 24, 2009 at 5:09 pm |
  6. Sharon L Hill, Deltona, FL

    If they were promised it and in most cases paid into it they are not entitled it they are owed it.

    February 24, 2009 at 4:58 pm |
  7. xtina, chicago IL

    Im with a super-conservative (Fortune 500 ) company based in Texas, where lack of pensions are common. The company has other investing plans that more than make up for the promise of a pension check. I think having been used to no pension from Day One, it's a different mindset from our parents and grandparents.

    It's all about freedom and choice. If a pension is important to you, don't give up until you have a job w/ a company that has pensions. But for some of us, a pension is not a factor in our long-term finances.

    February 24, 2009 at 4:54 pm |
  8. Joanne Pacicca, Solvay, NY

    I am entitled because my 401K and IRAs are funded by my own money. No one matches or gives me a thing...and I've lost 55% because I thought my investments would grow.

    Not only am I not entitled to anything, I will be getting a fraction of what was to be an investment.

    Bring back the bank passbook, but be sure it's FDIC insured!

    February 24, 2009 at 4:45 pm |