The predictable surprise: The unraveling of the U.S. retirement system
About This Event

Post-Event Summary
The uncertain future of the U.S. retirement system should be a concern for all current and future workers. On Monday at AEI, AEI’s Andrew G. Biggs spoke with Sylvester J. Schieber, former chairman of the Social Security Advisory Board and the author of "The Predictable Surprise: The Unraveling of the U.S. Retirement System," about the problems apparent in the system.

Schieber insisted that, for decades, the impending retirement crisis has been ignored and that much of the problem stems from the fact that benefits must be funded as they are accruing. But since we cannot change past ignorance and mistakes, we must focus on our future.

He described this future as one of skyrocketing retirement contributions with shrinking returns -- a burden that will fall on the young baby boomers and subsequent generations. Produced by multiple causes, including delayed retirement funding, longer life expectancies, and a surge in the labor force as female baby boomers began to work, the problem will persist unless action is taken to fix the employer-provided retirement benefit and tax system.

To remedy this dilemma, Schieber proposed that the U.S. find some alternative source of funding or adjust benefits on an equitable basis. Although American retirees are relying on a broken system that is not going away, Schieber asserted that it can be improved.
--Sam Sharpe

Event Descripton
Social Security will be insolvent by the early 2030s, and many Americans have saved too little on their own to make up the difference. In "The Predictable Surprise: The Unraveling of the U.S. Retirement System," Sylvester J. Schieber, former head of the Social Security Advisory Board and one of the nation's leading experts on private-sector pensions, shows that policymakers should have seen and heeded the signs of trouble decades ago.

In this AEI book forum, AEI resident scholar Andrew Biggs, a former principal deputy commissioner of the Social Security Administration, will speak with Schieber about his book, including where things went wrong and ideas for how to put American retirement systems, public and private, back on track.

Full video will be posted within 24 hours.


8:45 AM

9:00 AM
A Conversation with:
Sylvester J. Schieber, Former Chairman of the Social Security Advisory Board
Andrew G. Biggs, AEI

10:30 AM

Event Contact Information

For more information, please contact Veronika Polakova at [email protected], 202.862.4880.

Media Contact Information

For media inquiries, please contact Véronique Rodman at [email protected], 202.862.4871.

Speaker biographies

Andrew G. Biggs is a resident scholar at AEI studying Social Security reform, state and local government pensions and comparisons of public and private sector compensation. Before joining AEI, he was the principal deputy commissioner of the Social Security Administration (SSA), where he oversaw the SSA’s policy research efforts and led the agency's participation in the Social Security Trustees working group. In 2005, he worked on Social Security reform at the National Economic Council, and in 2001, he was on the staff of the President's Commission to Strengthen Social Security. His work has appeared in academic publications as well as outlets such as The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and The Washington Post. He has testified before U.S. Congress on numerous occasions.

Sylvester J. Schieber
is a private consultant specializing in retirement and health policy issues. He has worked with numerous private and government clients on pension and health design projects in North America and elsewhere around the world. He has also served as an expert witness in legal and mediation cases and as a speaker before professional groups and congressional committees. Schieber was a member of the U.S. Social Security Advisory Board from January 1998 to September 2009 and acted as chairman of the board from 2006 to 2009. Previously, he was a member of the 1994–1996 Social Security Advisory Council. From 1983 to 2006, he was at Watson Wyatt Worldwide (now Towers Watson) and, for nine years, served on its board of directors. In 1983, he set up the Watson Wyatt’s Research and Information Center, managing it until early 2005 when he was appointed director of the firm’s North American benefits consulting. Before joining Watson Wyatt, he was the first research director at the Employee Benefits Research Institute in Washington, D.C., and worked at the Social Security Administration for eight years. His last position there was as deputy director of the Office of Policy Analysis. Schieber has written numerous books, journal articles and policy analysis papers on retirement and health benefits issues.

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