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Robert B. Hudson

In the American retirement income picture, private pensions occupy a critical but underused place. Roughly one-half of Americans do not have private pension coverage, and those who do not tend to be concentrated in the lower levels of the overall income distribution. Pension coverage and adequacy are reviewed here as is the place of private pensions in assuring income adequacy in old age. Pressures on Social Security and “traditional” pensions will make the place of defined contribution (401k-type plans) increasingly important to older individuals, including social workers.


Between 1950 and 1980, the United States developed a welfare state that in many ways was comparable to those of other advanced industrial nations. Building on its New Deal roots, the Social Security system came to provide a “social wage” to older Americans, people with disability, and the dependents of deceased workers. It created a health-care insurance system for the elderly, the disabled, and the poor. Using the tax system in innovative ways, the government encouraged the expansion of pension and health-care protection for a majority of workers and their families. By 1980, some Americans could argue that their identification as a “laggard” in the field of social provision was no longer justified.


Maryann Syers

Abraham Epstein (1892–1942) was an economist, educator, and writer. He was a leader in the post-World War I movement for passage of social security legislation. In 1927 he founded the American Association for Old Age Security (later the American Association for Social Security).