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Retirement matters Blog

PBGC Celebrates 40 Years of Protecting Pension Benefits of the Nation’s Workers and Retirees: The 2000s

Friday August 29, 2014

The big blows are landed

The fight to save pensions intensified, as financial crisis led to broken promises and end-runs on pension security. Iconic companies moved to end pension security and the number of people served by PBGC continued to rise.

We started the decade with annual benefit payments to participants surpassing the $1 billion mark for the first time.

As 2001 started, PBGC took over two Trans World Airlines' pension plans. These plans covered 36,500 former workers and retirees and were underfunded by about $700 million. By the end of the year annual benefit payments by PBGC to participants surpassed the $1 billion mark for the first time.

TWA was merely the first big blow of many that decade.

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As 2002 ended, we acquired responsibility for the Bethlehem Steel pension plan, which covered 95,000 participants. At the time, Bethlehem Steel ranked as the largest single-plan ever assumed by PBGC, both in the amount of participants and underfunding — $4.3 billion.

We kept making improvements as the challenges multiplied.

By 2003, we had achieved an average processing time for benefit determination of less than three years for the first time in history.

In 2004, we began around-the-clock online services for customers.

That same year we assumed responsibility for more than one million participants.

Midway through the decade, PBGC became responsible for four of United Airlines' pension plans, in 2005. Collectively, the four plans covered 120,000 participants and were underfunded by about $7.4 billion, making them the largest claim by a single company against the pension insurance program in PBGC's history.

The decade ended with a similar body blow when Delphi Corp. became the second largest pension failure in PBGC's history with 69,402 vested employees. The liability assumed by the PBGC was $6.1 billion.

The trend was clear and it was not a trend we liked.

As the decade ended, we were protecting the pensions of nearly 44 million workers and retirees in more than 29,000 private defined benefit pension plans.