10 Questions for Elaine Chao

November 15, 2005Time Magazine

It is perhaps fitting that an immigrant from Taiwan who once ran the Peace Corps and United Way is tasked with helping improve the labor skills of the U.S. workforce. As overseer of America’s retirees and 150 million workers, Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao, 52, spoke with TIME’s Eric Roston about the impending pension crisis, the growing skills gap and life as half of a Washington power couple.
YOU SAID RECENTLY THAT UNLESS CONGRESS REFORMS TRADITIONAL PENSION PLANS SOON, THE CONSEQUENCES COULD BE “VERY BAD.” IF I’M A WORKER APPROACHING RETIREMENT AT A TEETERING COMPANY, WHAT DOES “VERY BAD” MEAN? If your retirement dreams hinge upon a pension plan that’s underfunded, that threat is real. That threat is huge. We have $450 billion in underfunded plans, and $100 billion of that is with financially ailing companies.
BUT PENSION PLANS HAVE BEEN UNDERFUNDED FOR YEARS. WHY IS REFORM SUDDENLY GAINING STEAM? Something has to be done. We now have legislation moving on the Hill, and I’m cautiously optimistic about the passage of the pension bill. Congress gave itself two years to come up with pension-reform proposals. We’re now at the end of that period.

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