The Three-Legged Stool


In previous generations, most working people could retire with dignity due to a trio benefits that became known as “The Three Legged Stool.” These benefits are Social Security, decent wages that allowed people to save, and defined benefit pensions. Today, with wages stagnant for decades and pensions all but a memory, workers are left with very little as they reach retirement age, and are now working longer, often not retiring at all and dying with nothing to leave to the next generation.

Listen to Peter tell us one such story on our weekend call-in show on WBAI 99.5 FM in New York:

Peter: [M]y dad worked for the city of New York human resources administration as a carpenter for over 25 years and he would always walk up to people [at] construction sites in New York City and say, you know “Hey, are you guys in the union? You really need to get union jobs. You need to organize.” And I didn’t fully understand it until he died seven years ago and then my mom was living on his pension and in the last two years she was sick. She was bed bound and that pension – oh my gosh – that pension … saved us.

Rick: [W]hen my grandfather died – he died, I think 12 years before my grandmother passed and she she was able to get his his pension as well and that’s what – that was the difference between her being able to live in her home with dignity and eventually to the end of her life with dignity, because she had that that, that three-legged stool. She had a defined benefit pension from where she worked and from where my grandfather worked. She had social security, and they had saved some money for retirement as well. So they they led their golden years with dignity and respect.

Rick: The sad reality – the sad reality is that three-legged stool has been whacked down to almost a one-legged – just a stick – because they’re going after Social Security whatever chance they get, the ability of workers to save money is has gotten much harder because wages have been stagnant and declining for so many decades, and the defined benefit benefit pension [is] all but gone completely gone.

And the result is a working class that is approaching retirement age on a wobbly stool that will never be able to hold them up, and a working class that is far too often represented by politicians who want to take an axe to that last leg.

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