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A Brief History of the PRC


Since its founding in 1976, the Pension Rights Center’s activities have been directed at trying to make sure that older Americans will have enough money to live on when they are too old to work. Below are some of the Center’s key accomplishments over the years:


  • The Center co-sponsored Retirement Security for All: A Forum for State Action with Dēmos and the New School. The forum brought together state officials with experts from Capitol Hill and a variety of organizations to discuss proposals for state-administered retirement plans for private-sector workers and to share strategies for moving these proposals forward.
  • The Center took the lead in challenging the new practice of offloading pensions by selling them to insurance companies or offering lump-sum buyouts. It called on Congress to halt this practice of “de-risking” and hold hearings on the impact of such moves on retirees. 
  • With training and technical assistance provided by the Center’s Legal Assistance team, the Administration on Aging’s Pension Counseling and Information Program has recovered more than $175 million in retirement benefits for thousands of older Americans. The Program’s six regional projects now serve 30 states.
  • At the “Re-Imagining Pensions” conference, the Center’s Director, Karen Ferguson, presented a proposal for a new type of retirement plan, Retirement Security Funds. These independently-run, single-purpose pension funds would be operated by financial institutions, with responsibility shared by both employers and employees.
  • The Center co-sponsored a conference on “Re-Imagining Pensions: Using Innovative Pension Plan Design to Reduce Risk and Increase Retirement Income” with Covington & Burling and the Urban Institute. Top policy experts joined government officials to examine new retirement options for private-sector workers, addressing the issues of risk-sharing, coverage and adequacy, and annuitization.
  • The Center joined with friends and supporters to celebrate a milestone: The Center's 35th Anniversary.
  • The Center's advocacy helped ensure that financial institutions must disclose, in plain English, the fees they are charging consumers in their 401(k) plans.
  • The Center, along with Retirement USA partners, announced the $6.6 trillion Retirement Income Deficit. The Retirement Income Deficit, the gap between the pension and retirement savings that American households have today and what they should have to maintain their living standards in retirement, depicts the magnitude of the nation's retirement income crisis. 
  • The Center continues its efforts to stop hospitals, schools, and other organizations from denying pension protections to their employees by claiming that their guaranteed private pension plans are "church plans". 
  • The Center joined with other retiree, employee, and consumer groups to launch Retirement USA, an ambitious undertaking to rethink and reshape the nation's private retirement system. To address the shortcomings of the current retirement system, the Retirement USA partners announced 12 principles and presented proposals for a new system that, in conjunction with Social Security, would provide adequate and secure retirement income for all workers. 


  • The Center launched the "DB+ Initiative," a collaborative effort with national employee and retiree organizations. The Initiative has two components. The first focuses on the development of measures to strengthen traditional pension plans for workers still covered by those plans. The second is exploring proposals for a new private retirement system for future workers that would incorporate key features of traditional plans along with other innovative concepts.
  • The Center's 30th anniversary was recognized by U.S. Senator Tom Harkin and Representative George Miller in statements entered into the Congressional Record. Congressman Miller hailed the Center as “the voice of the voiceless.” Senator Harkin noted that the Center “has always been at the forefront of protecting workers’ pensions and in proposing innovative and workable solutions. 
  • The Center established the National Pension Assistance Resource Center (National PARC) to develop and support a network of coordinated services aimed at offering information, advice and referrals to every individual in the country who has a problem or question about a retirement plan.
  • National PARC began development of PensionHelp America, a comprehensive one-stop website for people in every major retirement system.
  • The Center’s Conversation on Coverage was an unprecedented public policy initiative that brought together experts from all perspectives to examine ways of expanding pension and savings plan coverage for low- and moderate-income wage-earners. First launched in July 2001, the Conversation’s three Working Groups issued their final recommendations on May 11, 2007. 
  • The Center spearheaded the development of a growing grassroots network that is working to help employees and retirees get their voices heard by policymakers and by corporate leaders. The Ad Hoc Coalition to Restore Retirement Security brought together activists from a variety of companies to advocate for policies that preserve pension and health insurance promises made to older employees and retirees.
  • The Center prepared a Women’s Pension Agenda identifying gaps in the laws affecting homemakers under federally regulated retirement programs, and then organized a coalition of women’s and retiree groups that secured the introduction of legislation that would provide critically important reforms.  The Coalition is now working to secure the adoption of critically important reform measures.
  • The Center played a key role in shaping proposed solutions to the retirement security problems highlighted by the collapse of Enron. Center-initiated provisions helped people get their money back in Enron-type situations and established an ombudsman office in the Department of Labor to address the policy concerns of individuals. The Center testified before Congress, was quoted in all of the major media, and organized Enron employees who expressed an interest in becoming involved in retirement policy issues at a national level.


  • The Center created the Coalition for Retirement Security, the nation’s first grassroots organization on pension issues. The Coalition brought together employees and retirees, from an array of different companies, who had experienced a variety of pension problems. Coalition members provided mutual support to each others’ efforts, and worked together to promote comprehensive solutions in the nation’s pension laws.
  • The Center hosted a Pension Assistance Summit that brought government and private-sector officials together with counseling project directors to start to develop a national pension assistance system. The event resulted in a significant increase in government assistance to individuals and strong congressional support for the pension counseling demonstration program.
  • The Center sparked the creation of a demonstration Pension Counseling and Demonstration Program authorized by the Older Americans Act and administered by the U.S. Administration on Aging. This program put into place the first federal program to provide dedicated resources to help people with pension problems. The Center began its Technical Assistance Project to provide training and support to counseling projects around the country.
  • The Center, working with a broad-based coalition of labor and retiree organizations, helped stop companies from raiding millions of dollars of pension assets from pension plans, and encouraged companies to use “surplus” pension money to provide needed inflation adjustments for pensioners.
  • The Center convened numerous forums, including a Mini-White House Conference on Aging, a Pensions Not Posies event, seminars for nonprofits, and Pensions 2000 Committee meetings.


  • The Center created the Women’s Pension Project to reduce poverty among older women by closing the remaining gaps in the nation’s public and private retirement programs.  Working in coalition with a broad range of women’s, employee and retiree organizations, the Project spearheaded the enactment of four major reform laws:  

  • The Center established the National Pension Assistance Project to develop a nationwide legal assistance delivery services for individuals needing help to enforce their pension rights. The Project developed a nationwide network of lawyers, conducted legal training seminars, created bar association pension panels, initiated landmark lawsuits, and filed amicus briefs in major cases.
  • The Center wrote a series of pioneering pension publications: A Guide to Understanding Your Pension Plan, published by AARP; Protecting Your Pension Money, SEPs: What Small Businesses Need to Know; and A Working Women’s Pension Checklist, all published by the U.S. Department of Labor; as well as Your Pension Rights at Divorce: What Women Need to Know, The Case of the Missing Pension, and a Private Pension Intake and Training Manual.


  • The Center published the first-ever plain-English fact sheets describing the complex provisions of the private pension law, as well as Retirement Income News, and a Women & Pensions newsletter, and was responsible for the adoption of six federal regulations providing important protections for workers.
  • The Center convened a Citizen's Conference on Pension Policy to encourage employees and retirees to become involved in the development of national retirement policies.  The Conference created the Citizens’ Commission on Pension Policy to provide input to the President’s Commission on Pension Policy.



Many of the Pension Rights Center's historical records have been archived and are available at the M.E. Grenander Department of Special Collections and Archives at the University at Albany, State University of New York.