Author, sociologist James Russell to examine national retirement crisis in free lecture

retirement planAuthor and sociology professor James W. Russell will offer insight into what he considers a national retirement calamity in a presentation, “How Good is Your Retirement Plan? 401(k)s and the Retirement Crisis,” on Monday, Oct. 13, at 2 p.m. at Wolstein Research Building’s auditorium. The event is free and open to the public. Pre-registration is not required.

Russell is the author of eight books, including the recently released Social Insecurity: 401(k)s and the Retirement Crisis (Beacon Press, 2014). An authority on retirement policy in the United States, Europe and Latin America, he teaches sociology at Eastern Connecticut State University and has been a Fulbright scholar in Mexico and the Czech Republic. He has written for The Nation, Monthly Review and Salon.

Russell will lead a discussion on how, in his view, the wholesale conversion from traditional pensions to 401(k)-like retirement plans since 1981 provoked a growing retirement crisis in the United States.

The lecture, presented by Case Western Reserve’s Department of Sociology, will include the speaker’s experience in leading the first university-employee movement to successfully challenge the dominant trend and replace a defined contribution plan administered by TIAA-CREF and ING with a more secure and beneficial traditional pension plan.

In particular, Russell will expand on his belief that:

  • The United States is facing a massive retirement crisis due to the failure of 401(k)-like plans to provide adequate income for retirees.
  • The country’s 33-year experiment with substituting 401(k) plans for traditional pensions has failed. The only beneficiary has been the financial services industry, which has gained increasing control over and been able to extract extra profits from employee retirement savings.
  • It is a myth that 401(k)-like plans work well if individuals save regularly and invest wisely.
  • There are fiscally sustainable alternatives to 401(k) plans that perform more efficiently to ensure retirement security, including traditional defined benefit pensions and Social Security.

Katie Lavelle, the Ellen and Dixon Long Professor of World Affairs and professor of political science, will provide critical commentary immediately following Russell’s presentation. Lavelle was a Congressional Fellow on the House Committee of Financial Affairs, chaired by Rep. Barney Frank in 2006-07, and is the author of the recent book Money and Banks in the American Political System (Cambridge University Press, 2013)

Other sponsors for the event include the CWRU’s Center for Policy Studies, the University Center on Aging and Health, and the Weatherhead School of Management.

A book signing will immediately follow the event.