Steel, Airlines Weigh on PBGC

March 26, 2003 ( - Half of the 10 largest claims against the nation's private pension plan insurer have arisen in the past three years, and the trend shows little sign of abatement, according to new information from the agency.

>That data, as well as a wide-ranging number of statistics and data about the insurance program, was published today by the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) in a new edition of its annual statistical reference book, the Pension Insurance Data Book 2002.  

>The Data Book notes that gross claims against the PBGC fund from its inception in 1975 forward (excluding the potential claims of Bethlehem Steel and National Steel, estimated at $3.9 billion and $1.3 billion, respectively, by the PBGC), totaled $11.0 billion, with more than half that total coming from just 10 companies.   The Bethlehem Steel claim would represent the largest ever for the PBGC, the National Steel would be the third-largest.   LTV Steel, which the agency picked up in 2002, would fall in between those two.

“High” Five?

>Of those 10 companies, five were from the steel industry, and three were airlines.   Including the projected impact of Bethlehem and National Steel programs – which will by themselves increase the total claims incurred by the PBGC by nearly 50% – the steel industry has been responsible for 58% of the total claims, while airlines have represented 13%.  


>The number of single-employer plans insured by the agency has declined dramatically over the years, to about 30,600 plans from an all-time high of 112,000 plans in 1985.   That decline is primarily a result of a large number of terminations among small plans, according to the PBGC.   Nonetheless, the PBGC now provides pension insurance protection to more than 34 million participants in single employer plans, a 25% increase over the number covered in 1980.   While the number of participants covered has grown, the percentage of those participants that are active workers fell from 78% in 1980 to 53% in 2000, according to the Pension Insurance Data Book 2002.

>Meanwhile, the total number of multiemployer plans insured by the PBGC has declined slowly since 1982, primarily among plans with fewer than 1,000 participants, and primarily due to plan mergers, according to the PBGC.   Still, as with single employer plans, the number of participants in multiemployer covered by the PBGC has risen 19% since 1980 (primarily among plans with more than 5,000 workers), even while the number of plans themselves has fallen.   More than 9.5 million participants in multiemployer plans are now covered by the PBGC.

Data Available

>The data book is available on PBGC’s Web site at .   Additionally, single copies of the publication may be obtained by writing to: PBGC Data Book, Suite 240, 1200 K Street NW, Washington, DC 20005-4026.   Requests also may be submitted by FAX to (202) 326-4042.

>The PBGC is a federal corporation created by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 to guarantee payment of basic pension benefits earned by workers.   Its two insurance programs cover about 44 million American workers and retirees participating in about 32,500 private-sector defined benefit pension plans, including about 1,650 multiemployer plans.   The agency, which receives no funds from general tax revenues, has operations financed largely by insurance premiums paid by companies that sponsor pension plans and investment returns.