James W. Russell (Ph.D. sociology, University of Wisconsin-Madison) is an expert and activist in retirement policy. He is the author of eight books, including Social Insecurity: 401(k)s and the Retirement Crisis, Double Standard: Social Policy in Europe and the United States, and Class and Race Formation in North America. He was co-chairperson of the Connecticut Committee for Equity in Retirement, a rank and file advocacy group that initiated a union campaign that won the right of public employees in Connecticut to transfer from their failing 401(k) type plan to the state’s traditional pension. He has taught at universities in the United States and as a Fulbright professor in Mexico and the Czech Republic. Currently, he is a lecturer in Public Policy at Portland State University in Oregon. He is a member of the National Academy of Social Insurance and an appointed member of the Connecticut Retirement Security Board.
Forthcoming, November 2021: The Labor Guide to Retirement Plans (Monthly Review Press)
Social Insecurity is about understanding and finding solutions to the growing retirement crisis facing tens of millions of Americans.
Since 1981 shaky 401(k) schemes that depend on stock market investing have increasingly replaced secure, traditional pensions. The financial services industry encourages the belief that these schemes will produce generous benefits. But 30 years after their first introduction, the first generation to retire under these plans has learned that they produce less than half the benefits of the pensions they replaced.
Even before the stock market crisis of 2008, the signs were everywhere that very few people would be able to accumulate enough wealth through these accounts to ensure financial security. As a result, most people are looking forward to—or rather becoming resigned to—working longer and seeing their standards of living dramatically decline when they do retire.
401(k) benefits are lower than those of traditional pensions because the financial services industry drains considerable management fees, commissions, and profits from the accounts involved; and individual plans lack the advantages of risk pooling that traditional pensions have.
Those who still have traditional pensions, mainly public employees such as school teachers, find themselves under attack for having decent retirement plans. The financial services industry, aided and abetted by conservative think tanks, has mounted a massive propaganda campaign to convince taxpayers with disingenuous scare tactics about unfunded liabilities that their retirement plans should also be converted to 401(k)s.
These same interests would like to further undermine retirement security by privatizing or lowering the benefits of Social Security.
What has and is occurring is a massive swindle in which the financial services industry is raiding the collective retirement savings of tens of millions of people to inflate its profits, which have grown enormously at the expense of retirement security.
The book and accompanying blog are dedicated to exposing and organizing resistance to that swindle.