(Bloomberg) — General Electric Co.’s gaping pension deficit certainly stands out for its size. But the company is hardly the only one at risk of potentially shortchanging some of its employees come retirement.
All across corporate America, underfunded pensions have become the norm. Even now, a decade after the financial crisis, the largest plans face a shortfall of $269 billion, right about where it was 10 years ago. Years of low interest rates have largely offset gains in the stock market. Companies haven’t helped matters by lavishing money on shareholder rewards and clinging to assumptions about returns that proved to be too rosy.
Defined benefit plans, like your traditional corporate pensions, have largely disappeared from view in the past couple of decades as companies have embraced plans like 401(k)s. Employers can opt to contribute to those plans, but it’s the employees who are responsible for choosing the right investments and are solely on the hook if those investments fare poorly.