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US pension insurer runs record $34B deficit

Associated Press Modified: November 16, 2012 at 5:15 pm •  Published: November 16, 2012
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The PBGC joined with unions at American Airlines earlier this year to oppose the company's plan to terminate its pension plans. The move would have dumped billions of dollars of new obligations on the agency. American ended up freezing pensions for most workers instead of terminating them.

The American Benefits Council, which represents businesses, called the $34 billion deficit figure misleading and said it was based on faulty math.

"The public should not be led to believe the PBGC is in danger of a bailout, and Congress and the Obama administration should not use this number as a pretext to raise (insurance) premiums," the group said in a statement. The group has been critical of the PBGC.

The PBGC was created in 1974 as a government insurance program for traditional employer-paid pension plans. If an employer can no longer support its pension plan, the agency takes over the assets and liabilities, and pays promised benefits to retirees up to certain limits.

The agency backs defined-benefit plans, which are most prevalent in auto manufacturing, steel, airlines and other industries.

The number of companies offering traditional pension plans has shrunk dramatically in recent decades. U.S. employees increasingly have turned to defined-contribution plans such as 401(k)s to fund their retirement.

The PBGC has been in the red for 31 of its 38 years of operation. It did have surpluses in some years in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when fewer companies failed.