Tuesday, March 04, 2014


The American Baptist Churches, USA was one of the first denominations to found a retirement plan for its clergy.   In 1911 a number of Baptist leaders, including John D. Rockefeller contributed seed money to start a fund for the "better maintenance of the ministry" and the Ministers and Missionaries Benefit Board was founded.  When I was ordained in 1978, the clear expectation was that every congregation in the ABC would contribute the equivalent of 16% of the pastor's salary & housing to a fully funded retirement account, death benefits, and disability insurance.  That meant that 13% of salary and housing went into a 403B account.  My salary was paltry in those days but thanks to the wonders of compound interest and the general upward trend of the stock market, I have a fairly healthy retirement account these days.  Last week, I received my annual report for that account along with a projection of what my retirement will look like in seven years.  At the same time we received my wife's report, which while significantly smaller than mine for a variety of reasons, makes a nice addition to mine.  I don't know what Social Security numbers are but after making a conservative guess, I felt quite confident about the future for my wife and me.  We won't be rich, but we will be OK and could even afford to stay in our home with a Central Coast sized mortgage payment.

Then I thought about my children... and I worried.  Neither of my adult children have begun retirement accounts and neither has a work situation that provides one.  My daughter is saddled with significant educational debt that precludes the possibility of saving for retirement even if she was foresighted enough to plan that far ahead.  My son's income is not adequate to provide for housing and food let alone for long term planning.  Clearly demographics will not allow Social Security to provide adequate retirement income for them unless there are significant changes made.  I worry for both of them and their families. 

So... dreaming of changes...  I'd like to see a restructuring of the way that college debt works, freeing an entire generation of those terrible burdens.  At the very least, it should be treated the same way as other debt.  At the very most, educational costs should be seen as a social investment in the future of our country.  After all, historically we have provided for free the amount of education required to be a productive member of society.  Today that includes either college or trade school following high school.  A high school education is simply inadequate these days.  Then, for social security... remove the cap.  Social Security is not a retirement plan.  An individual is not making contributions to an account from which they will draw.  It is a tax that funds an important safety net that currently is applied in the most regressive way possible.  And perhaps there should be a means test in receiving the benefits.  Those with income or assets beyond a certain level do not receive Social Security benefits...  Of course, there is the conservative solution for the problem - cut the benefits and push many seniors either into poverty or back into an anemic workforce which already penalizes those with the the least amount of skill or, as Dave Ramsey says, "economic value."

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