25 things vanishing in America, part 2: 401(k) company matches

The company match for employee 401(k)s is disappearing – just at the point where we need it most.

The Pension Rights Center has been keeping track of the phenomena. As of early March, 138 of the nation's largest and most prominent companies have ditched the 401(k) match.

That's too bad because not only do matches put more money in employees' pockets, they also motivate us to save more. Fidelity Investments, which is the country's largest provider of workplace retirement savings plans, released a study last month that said matching up to 3 percent of a workers' salary increased worker participation in retirement savings plans by nearly 10%.

In the long run, large companies have a vested interest in helping employees save for retirement. Otherwise, they may lose their older customers who without pensions will spend their golden years living in cardboard boxes – never buying much of anything.The Pension Rights Center doesn't claim that it has a comprehensive list of companies dogging it in the 401(k) department. Its list only includes public companies and other firms big enough to be legally or otherwise obligated to put their companies' important changes in a press release.

But the list includes some firms unlikely to be scrimping on 401(k)s, considering either their business or their mission. The Methodist Medical Center in Peoria, Ill., for instance. Treating employees right should be what a charitable-based health organization is all about.

It also seems unlikely that Sprint/Nextel couldn't find a better option to cutting 401(k) matches in tough times. How about dropping that NASCAR sponsorship, for instance? It reportedly costs the cell phone company $75 million a year. There are 56,000 Sprint/Nextel employees: If each got a share of the NASCAR sponsorship money in their 401(k) savings account, that would be $1,339 each – a pretty nice single-year hedge against eating dog food in their old age.

No question about it, dropping 401(k) contributions is a lousy thing to do, but many workers think it is the wave of the future. According to a survey by Fidelity Investments consulting services group, 30 percent of workers assume they will be accountable for obtaining their own benefits by 2019.

Maybe they're right, but let's hope they are wrong.

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