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New Research

A Tale of Two Retirements

Research & Commentary
October 29, 2015


100 CEOs have as much in retirement assets as 41 percent of all American families.

By Scott Klinger and Sarah Anderson Two-RetirementsCover-613x409

This report, co-published by the Institute for Policy Studies and the Center for Effective Government, is the first to provide detailed statistics on the staggering gap between the retirement assets of Fortune 500 CEOs and the rest of America.

Key findings:

The Top 100

  • The company-sponsored retirement assets of just 100 CEOs add up to as much as the entire retirement account savings of 41% of American families (50 million families in total).
  • The 100 largest CEO retirement accounts are worth an average of more than $49.3 million—enough to generate a $277,686 monthly retirement check for each executive for the rest of their lives.
  • David Novak of YUM Brands had the largest retirement nest egg in the Fortune 500 in 2014, with $234 million, while hundreds of thousands of his Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, and KFC employees have no company retirement assets whatsoever. Novak transitioned from CEO to Executive Chairman in 2015.

Special Tax-deferred Compensation Accounts

  • Fortune 500 CEOs have $3.2 billion in special tax-deferred compensation accounts that are exempt from the annual contribution limits imposed on ordinary 401(k)s.
  • In 2014, these CEOs saved $78 million on their tax bills by putting $197 million more in these tax-deferred accounts than they could have if they were subject to the same rules as other workers. These special accounts grow tax-free until the executives retire and begin to withdraw the funds.

Government Contractors

  • Fifteen CEOs of major federal contractors can expect to receive monthly retirement checks that are larger than President Obama is set to receive.
    • David Cote of Honeywell has the largest retirement account, with $168 million. This will deliver him a monthly check of more than $950,000—56 times larger than the $16,975 monthly check President Obama will receive.

Gender and Race Gaps

  • The 10 largest CEO retirement funds—all held by white males—add up to $1.4 billion, compared to $280 million for the 10 largest held by female CEOs, and $196 million for the 10 largest held by CEOs who are people of color.
  • Among ordinary Americans, 62 percent of working age African-Americans and 69 percent of Latinos have no retirement savings, compared to just 37 percent of white workers.

The report also examines various policy shifts that have favored corporate executives and identifies reforms to limit CEO retirement subsidies and ensure a dignified retirement for ordinary Americans.

Read the full report here [PDF].

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