A HISTORY OF THE CONVERSATION ON cOVERAGE
On May 11, 2007, the Conversation on Coverage released its final report, Covering the Uncovered: Final Report of the Conversation on Coverage. The report includes four pragmatic proposals and concepts aimed at: exploring new defined benefit plan designs, developing two new models for the delivery of guaranteed benefits; encouraging more individuals to save for retirement by developing a structural blueprint for a new government-authorized clearinghouse for portable individual accounts; and designing a framework for a new kind of multiple employer plan that would be administered by financial institutions and specifically marketed to small businesses. Read the report.
How it all began
In 2001, the Pension Rights Center decided to do something that had never been done before. It brought together a range of stakeholders from a variety of perspectives to discuss ways of increasing pension coverage in the United States. With coverage rates stalled at approximately 50 percent for the last quarter century, there was broad recognition among Conversation on Coverage participants of the need to address this pressing issue.
Thus began the First Stage of the Conversation on Coverage. With initial grants from the Ford Foundation and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the Pension Rights Center invited a balanced group of 75 retirement income experts representing businesses, financial institutions, unions, and retiree, women's, minority and consumer organizations, as well as experts from professional and academic communities, to participate in an ambitious two-day public policy dialogue.
At this initial Conversation on Coverage event, the common ground objectives of the process were established and the ground rules were set. The event opened with the presentation of a comprehensive research paper summarizing coverage statistics, followed by panels discussing sixteen proposals. This first event built a strong sense of camaraderie among participants and produced a series of promising concepts aimed at increasing coverage for American workers. These concepts are summarized in Confronting the Pension Coverage Challenge.
The success of the First Stage led to the launch of the Second Stage in 2003. Again, with a wide range of supporters, The Center brought together more than 45 individuals representing a broad spectrum of stakeholders in the pension system to build on the ideas from the First Stage of the Conversation and to focus their expertise on developing concrete ways of increasing coverage. During the Second Stage, participants were divided into three Working Groups, each of which tackled a specific area in the pension coverage debate.
Working Group I was charged with expanding coverage by encouraging new forms of defined benefit plans and new types of hybrid plans that contain many of the salient features of defined benefit plans.
Working Group II sought to develop new incentives and proposals to encourage more individual private-sector workers to save for retirement – particularly focusing on low- and moderate-income workers who are least likely to have access to a plan.
Working Group III decided to create new approaches to increase pension coverage among small businesses where the coverage rates are lowest.
Each Working Group's interim recommendations were published in Covering the Uncovered, the Working Report of the Second Stage.
The Third Stage of the Conversation on Coverage was launched in 2005. In this stage, the Working Groups reconvened, with some new members, to refine the interim recommendations. To this end, the Working Groups devoted collectively hundreds of hours to address an array of unresolved substantive issues and develop their detailed recommendations.