Bureau of Labor Statistics Examines Popular 401(k) Retirement Plans

The most recent issue of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Program Perspectives publication focuses on one of the most significant changes to American worker benefits in recent years—the change in employer-provided retirement plans, most notably the wide-spread movement towards defined contribution plans, such as 401(k) and 403(b) plans, that has occurred in private industry and, to a lesser extent, in State and local government. In March 2010, 59 percent of private industry workers had access to a defined contribution plan, while 41 percent actually participated in such a plan. Among State and local government workers—where access to the more traditional defined benefit retirement plans ise more likely—29 percent had access to defined contribution plans and 17 percent participated. Although the employer contributes to these plans, workers that choose to participate in defined contribution plans typically also have to contribute to the plan. In private industry, 63 percent of workers must contribute and in State and local government, 58 percent must contribute.

The report presents access and participation rates by several categories as well as employee contribution requirements. For access and participation rates, information is available for such worker characteristics as full-time/part-time, bargaining status, and level of wages. Information by establishment characteristics includes establishment size, geographic location, industry sector, and ownership. Data on employee contribution requirements are also provided by full-time/part-time status, bargaining status, and ownership.

Data in this report are from BLS’s annual publication National Compensation Survey: Employee Benefits in the United States, March 2010. It includes detailed data on most employee benefits, such as: retirement, health care, life insurance, short- and long-term disability, holidays, vacation, sick leave, and nonproduction bonuses, as well as benefits intended to improve quality of life (such as subsidized child care) and financial-related benefits (such as flexible spending accounts).

Program Perspectives is a relatively new publication from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Each issue of this series highlights previously-published BLS data and how they provide useful information and context for understanding a selected topic.

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