As corporate bankruptcies climb, more and more of the pension burden is falling onto the shoulders of taxpayers.
The deficit at the federal agency that guarantees pensions for 44 million Americans more than doubled in the last six months to a record high, reaching $33.5 billion, largely as a result of the surging number of bankruptcies among companies whose pensions it must now take over.
The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, as of October, had faced a shortfall of $11 billion. But the combined effect of lower interest rates, losses on its investment portfolio and the increase in the number of companies filing for bankruptcy protection resulted in a deepening of its estimated deficit, officials said Wednesday.
The agency, created by Congress in 1974, is now paying benefits of about $4.3 billion a year to about 640,000 people. Employers nationwide with so-called defined-benefit pension programs pay insurance premiums to the agency in return for a promise that it will take over their pension plan if a company fails.
With the bankruptcy of Chrysler and a possible similar move by General Motors, the agency is facing a record surge in demand. The new deficit estimate takes into account both pensions it has taken over in the last six months, and others it believes it will have to assume control of soon.
The bankruptcies of Chrysler and GM will easily swamp the PBGC. It does not have the resources to deal with it.
This is looking like the latest taxpayer bailout in the works.