By: Tom DeRoche
Anniversaries are always a time for celebration and reflection. Last week I had the opportunity to celebrate and reflect on something that helps me feel more secure looking forward—I had the good fortune to attend the Department of Labor celebration of the 40th Anniversary of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, aka ERISA.
We have something in common, ERISA and I. In September, when ERISA celebrated its official 40th anniversary, my wife and I celebrated our 20th. Little did we know 40 years ago what that law would mean to us today and in our future. Heck, we probably didn’t even know what ERISA stood for when we married 20 years ago. But we do now. And what a difference it makes.
In full disclosure I should say that my wife and I have the rare benefit of each having a defined benefit pension plan. I say “rare” because we know so few who can claim one pension in the family, let alone two. And perhaps my appreciation for this benefit is rooted in my employment in the benefits field, but that does not diminish its import. The DOL “bash” was nothing like my own celebration. No music, food or drinks. Sounds kind of boring, doesn’t it? But at least I got to travel to D.C. for that celebration whereas, my celebration was just in the backyard.
The DOL party-goers included government agency leaders, past and present, who were, or are, charged with implementing and enforcing all of the provisions of ERISA. They spent the morning reminiscing and reflecting. (We did a lot of that at my party, too, only you didn’t hear many acronyms or legal provisions in the conversations in my backyard.)
[Related: Guide to ERISA Fiduciary Responsibilities]
If you are a benefits geek, it was a fascinating dialogue. If you’re not, let me summarize by saying this: There are (and have been) a lot of really smart, really good people on both sides of the aisle who really care about retirement security for all of us. They are dynamic thinkers and doers, problem solvers and champions for workers. Because of their efforts and that law, my wife and I worry a little less about our own retirement. We know a little more about our plans. We know that there are rules and regulations that protect the promises that have been made to us. We know that what we’ve earned is ours. We have faith that there is a backup plan if ours fails. So we can focus today on more pressing issues like funding our children’s education and riding out the economic recovery. And we can do so knowing that we are not trading our future for our present. That is a big deal.
So happy anniversary ERISA. May you be more relevant to more people with each passing anniversary! But I’ll take my parties any day.