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“‘As far as I can determine there is only one solution [to the CEO’s demand to save more money]’, the human resources representative wrote to her superiors. ‘That would be the death of all existing retirees.’”

It’s no secret that hundreds of companies have been slashing pensions and health coverage earned by millions of retirees. Employers blame an aging workforce, stock market losses, and spiraling costs—what they call “a perfect storm” of external forces that has forced them to take drastic measures.

But this so-called retirement crisis is no accident. Ellen E. Schultz, award-winning investigative reporter for the Wall Street Journal, reveals how large companies and the retirement industry—benefits consultants, insurance companies, and banks—have all played a huge and hidden role in the death spiral of American pensions and benefits. A little over a decade ago, most companies had more than enough set aside to pay the benefits earned by two generations of workers, no matter how long they lived. But by exploiting loopholes, ambiguous regulations, and new accounting rules, companies essentially turned their pension plans into piggy banks, tax shelters, and profit centers.

Drawing on original analysis of company data, government filings, internal corporate documents, and confidential memos, Schultz uncovers decades of widespread deception during which employers have exaggerated their retiree burdens while lobbying for government handouts, secretly cutting pensions, tricking employees, and misleading shareholders. She reveals how companies:

–Siphon billions of dollars from their pension plans to finance downsizings and sell the assets in merger deals

–Overstate the burden of rank-and-file retiree obligations to justify benefits cuts while simultaneously using the savings to inflate executive pay and pensions

–Hide their growing executive pension liabilities, which at some companies now exceed the liabilities for the regular pension plans

–Purchase billions of dollars of life insurance on workers and use the policies as informal executive pension funds. When the insured workers and retirees die, the company collects tax-free death benefits

–Preemptively sue retirees after cutting retiree health benefits and use other legal strategies to erode their legal protections.

Though the focus is on large companies, which drive the legislative agenda, the same games are being played at smaller companies, nonprofits, public pensions plans and retirement systems overseas. Nor is this a partisan issue: employees of all political persuasions and income levels—from managers to miners, pro-football players to pilots—have been slammed.

Retirement Heist is a scathing and urgent exposé of one of the most critical and least understood crises of our time. 

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Quotes & Awards

  • “For anyone seriously interested in the retirement industry—and that’s what it amounts to, an industry—this book should be required reading.”

    New York Times

  • “The book is crammed with heartbreaking anecdotes of retirees suffering (and in some cases probably dying) because of pension-related corporate greed. But the perpetrators have not been charged with any crimes. In most cases documented by Schultz, the perpetrators have escaped widespread blame—except in her investigative pieces and now in this book.”

    USA Today

  • “Heartbreaking stories of destitute seniors are juxtaposed with the obscene surpluses in pension funds for executives—and unless the global retirement industry is reined in, Schultz points out, it will continue to capture retirement wealth earned by many to enrich a relative few, and within our lifetimes, ‘retirement’ will inevitably revert to what it was in the 1930s and before. A fascinating, troubling exposé and a sobering call to arms.”

    Publishers Weekly

  • “A blistering examination of corporate greed and avarice…A rapid-fire narrative…Schultz unleashes an undeniably powerful and penetrating look into corporate money-making machinations and the havoc inflicted on rank-and-file employees. Essential reading for anyone who works for a living.”

    Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

  • Retirement Heist uncovers one of the most significant threats to the American worker of our time. Ellen Schultz’s reporting is expansive, smart, and will have you shouting for someone to be held accountable. Anybody who works and is worried about their future should read this book.”

    Lewis Maltby, president of the National Workrights Institute and author of Can They Do That? Retaking Our Fundamental Rights in the Workplace

  • “Ellen Schultz documents the biggest heist in history, all the more horrifying because it is legal. Accounting tricks, perverse tax incentives, and bonus-hungry executives have taken the retirement money American workers have saved over decades. Meticulously researched and as gripping as a crime novel, this is essential reading for anyone who has, had, or hopes to have a job.”

    Nell Minow, cofounder of The Corporate Library and author of Watching the Watchers: Corporate Governance for the 21st Century

  • “Americans have long been burdened by the overwhelming challenge of saving for retirement, as tax deductions for retirement savings favor the highest income earners and pension coverage erodes. But as an economist investigating the retirement crises I was shocked at Ellen Schultz’s exposure of outright lies, manipulations, and pure greed of the employers trusted with our retirement funds. Retirement Heist will help ordinary workers pressure Congress to enact serious pension reform.”

    Teresa Ghilarducci, director of the Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis and author of When I’m Sixty-Four: The Plot against Pensions and the Plan to Save Them

  • Retirement Heist takes a provocative look at the unseen corporate forces that have weakened our nation’s employer-provided retirement benefits. Ellen E. Schultz documents an emerging corporate culture—spurred on by benefit consultants—that places shareholder value and executive compensation above employee retirement security. Retirement Heist shows how the growing retirement insecurity of today is a direct outgrowth of the hidden manipulation of plan benefits for other corporate purposes.”

    David Certner, legislative policy director for the American Association of Retired Persons 

  • “The retirement security of millions of Americans hasn’t been lost to the recession or the demographics of an aging workforce, it’s been stolen-by corporate executives and their consultants, lobbyists, accountants, and lawyers. Retirement Heist is an important book for workers and policymakers that documents how corporate profits and executives’ salaries have been inflated at the expense of the middle class.”

    Jay Feinman, distinguished professor, Rutgers University School of Law, Camden and author of Delay, Deny, Defend: Why Insurance Companies Don’t Pay Claims and What You Can Do about It

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About the Author

Ellen E. Schultz is an investigative reporter who has covered the so-called retirement crisis for more than a decade. Her reporting has led to congressional hearings, new legislation, and investigations by the Treasury and the Government Accountability Office. A former staff reporter for the Wall Street Journal, she has won dozens of journalism awards for economics, financial, and investigative reporting, including three Polk Awards, two Loeb awards, and a National Press Club award. In 2003, she was part of a team of Wall Street Journal reporters awarded the Pulitzer Prize for articles on corporate scandals. She lives in New York City.