March 21, 2009

The rich, they are different from you and me:

The furor over bonuses for some employees at AIG International Group has focused public attention on the sizable checks employees received at firms that were bailed out by the federal government or received some taxpayer support. Less noticed, though, are the rich retirement benefits. That's partly because firms only recently began to disclose the value of executive retirement benefits in their annual proxy statements, which are filed this time of year ahead of yearly shareholder meetings.

Equilar, a California compensation consulting company, said the average additional value in 2008 to a chief executive's retirement plan was $1.23 million, based on its review of those firms that have filed proxy statements. In 2007, the average was $1.38 million.

These executives continue to accumulate enormous benefits while fewer rank-and-file workers have guaranteed retirement benefits. Just one-third of workers in mid- to large-size companies were in so-called defined benefit plans in 2007, down from 52 percent in 1995, according to the Employee Benefit Research Institute.

Some compensation specialists say the executives' sums are far more than what any individual needs for retirement.

"Retirement packages are supposed to help you if you're unable to save for retirement. I don't believe any of these guys could have spent all the cash they've earned in their careers as CEOs," said Paul Hodgson, senior researcher at the Corporate Library in Portland, Maine, which researches executive compensation and corporate governance issues for shareholders and insurers.

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