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Actually, I find myself kind of galloping down a slightly different path.

There has also been a fairly big change in the job market itself. Companies are showing less and less loyalty to their workers, and are finding less and less loyalty being returned (duh, guys). We're making our job skills more and more portable, always keeping an eye on the job market, willing to jump from ship to ship if we think we'll get a better cruise over there. The blood bath when all this started was appalling, workers being let go (right sized) out of jobs and contractors being brought in as a kind of "disposable" work force. For a while, a lot of qualified people were hurt by the so-called "new" economy. Frantic for "real" jobs, they accepted bigger and bigger paycuts, fewer and fewer benefits, longer hours, fewer vacation days. No pension. It was very, very ugly for those who were not near enough retirement to simply walk away from the whole deal in disgust, yet old enough to find themselves outmanuevered by the kids entering the marketplace with kid-energy and kid-resiliance.

What I'm wondering is, are we going to start seeing these 401k things working out a little bit better as time goes on? There's always at least one generation that is hurt, sometimes badly, by such a drastic change. The learning curve is steep. I remember people being shocked when they were fired from Pacific Bell some years ago; they were surprised to learn that, in general, one does not get paid to stand around and shuffle papers from one desk to another. That a secretary with no typing skills was going to be hard pressed to find a job, no matter how many years she had in the business. That a marketing director who could not show a single product he had ever promoted was not going to be instantly snapped up by a willing employer.

People are shocked right now that the 401k bit them. We're all going along, heads down, slogging through our Monday to Friday routine and somehow expecting that somebody else, somewhere, is taking care of our retirement money. It's a tremendous shock to the system to realize that, gee, that might not be so. You expect that the mutual funds you're investing in are managed by someone who knows that the heck they're doing, and it hurts to discover they don't.

But people learn. They adapt. Sure, there are a lot of people who, right now, are hurt and don't have the time and/or inclination to save themselves. Their retirement plans are in shattered ruins, and there's not much to be done but to pity them in the extreme - and to learn from it. Those of us young enough to avoid those rocks should do it - NOW. I have a great deal of pity for those who were hurt in this recent downturn, but I'll have a lot less for those in my particular cohort who are. For heavens' sake, you'd have to have your head pretty far in the sand not to have heard about all this!

Going forward, I don't think that 401k are "against" any particular class of people. I don't believe that pension plans are going to come back in force, especially not while we've got a situation where the average Joe spends, what, only a few years at any given company? What happens to the pension benefits then, when you aren't there long enough to even begin to vest? I do believe that what we need most is to talk about these things. Talk about Enron, talk about people who have done well, talk about people who have suffered a total loss of their retirement funds. Tell the stories to our kids, discuss it amongst ourselves. Those of us who do think about these things, share the stories with those who don't.

Anyway, that's enough miscellaneous ranting for the day.

Onward!
Tamarian
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