The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) is a federal government agency established in 1974 by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA; P.L. 93-406). It was created to protect the pensions of participants and beneficiaries covered by private sector, defined benefit (DB) plans. These pension plans provide a specified monthly benefit at retirement, usually either a percentage of salary or a flat dollar amount multiplied by years of service. Defined contribution plans, such as §401(k) plans, are not insured. The PBGC is chaired by the Secretary of Labor, with the Secretaries of the Treasury and Commerce serving as board members.
The PBGC runs two distinct insurance programs for single-employer and multiemployer plans. Multiemployer plans are collectively bargained plans to which more than one company makes contributions. PBGC maintains separate reserve funds for each program. In FY2011, the PBGC insured about 27,066 DB pension plans covering 44.2 million people. The PBGC paid or owed benefits to 1.5 million people and took in 152 newly terminated pension plans. A firm must be in financial distress to end an underfunded plan. Most workers in single-employer plans taken over by PBGC receive the full benefit earned at the time of termination, but the ceiling on multiemployer plan benefits that could be guaranteed has left almost all of these retirees without full benefit protection.