Are You Ready? Lay Employees and Retirement

In 2009, the 76th General Convention passed Resolution 2009-A138 and adopted its associated canon, establishing a mandatory Church-wide Lay Employee Pension System. Over the past decade, we have worked with employers around the Church to make sure lay employees are enrolled in one of the pension plans we offer, a TIAA-CREF retirement savings program, or another permissible option under A138. Many bodies around the Church have collaborated to ensure that lay employees are able to save for retirement, and the focus is working.

According to our records, more than 90% of Episcopal employers now offer lay employees retirement benefits, and assets in our retirement savings plans for lay employees have increased by more than 200%. These are great outcomes, but they do not tell the full story. Despite the gains in retirement savings over the past 10 years, many lay employees remain uneasy about the prospect of their retirement.

In a recent study we conducted of 1,500 lay employees, 85% of respondents described their pension benefit as generous. In addition, the annual retirement contribution percentage for lay employees, which includes employee and employer contributions, averages 13.1%, close to the suggested industry annual retirement savings goal of 15%. Despite this, however, many confessed that their level of confidence in being able to live comfortably in retirement was low. For example, only 9% reported being “very confident,” significantly lower than the 20% of clergy and the 17% of the national population. Some 22% said they were “not at all confident,” compared to only 9% of clergy.

Comments from lay employees such as, “I’d rather go to the dentist than think about retirement,” “It’s hard to assess what’s ‘enough,’” and “I know I need to learn more about retirement, but I’ve waited too long” indicate that many are feeling ill-informed, overwhelmed, and intimidated.

With sentiments like these in mind, we are re-doubling our outreach and education efforts among lay employees to make sure they are fully aware of the retirement planning resources that CPG offers. We would appreciate your help with spreading the word.

By the way, our study not only gave us greater insight into the lay employee population, but it also helped raise thousands of dollars for charity! For each completed survey we received, we made a $5 donation to Episcopal Relief & Development.

We continually assess the benefits we provide, using different types of research to inform the decisions we make. In fact, we are in the process of responding to two resolutions from the most recent General Convention: 2018-A237 and 2018-D045 urged CPG to examine lay and clergy income and pension disparities and to identify the possible steps for providing pension equity for lay and ordained Church employees.