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And if you think that companies are oblivious to that fact, think again. As auto enrollment has become more popular, companies have become chintzier about how much they pitch in.

or retired. So if you quit AOL or were laid off in, say, October, you forfeited any employer match.

Two researchers tried to understand why companies weren t griping about the costs of matching everyone s retirement savings when they switched to auto enrollment 401k plans. Nadia Karmcheva, a research associate at the Urban Institute in Washington, along with senior research associate Barbara Butrica, worked on the question.

$36m. That s after taking into account the high costs of those distressed babies, by the way.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that retirement savings plans cost employees only 3.7% of total compensation by late 2013, which amounts to a tiny, almost imperceptible increase from 3.3% in early 2004.

A recent survey by the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that younger baby boomers held an average of 11 jobs between the ages of 18 and 46. If employers adopted this approach, boomers could have forfeited as much as four or five years worth of employer 401k matches, as well as investment gains on those contributions. It s not the only one.

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Not exactly, as it turns out. And yet a lot of companies are cutting back on retirement benefits. If Armstrong has backed away, it s only a battle, not the war, against retirement plans. Other employers are intent on containing costs and companies like IBM remain as an example of that option.

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If it does catch on, we ll need to worry.

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For many companies, 401k plans have been an unexpectedly large cost. There has been a big push in favor of auto enrollment in 401k plans, requiring employees to be enrolled in plans by default. Sure enough, the results seem to suggest that more are opting to participate.

Here s how it would have worked if Armstrong had his way: AOL would have made contributions to its employees 401k plans only until after the end of the calendar year and only if the employee still worked for them Nike Leggings With Mesh

Healthcare costs for company employees are rising and they are far bigger than retirement costs; they make up 7.7% of total compensation, up from 6% in the same time period. That was true well before Obamacare.

It s not possible to tell whether companies are actually cutting back the rate at which they match employee 401k contributions, says Karamcheva: that would require access to private data. But clearly, auto enrollment plans aren t automatically more generous.

The remarkable part is that companies are cutting retirement benefits even when those costs are a fraction of total employment expenses.

Clearly, Armstrong s question was even more than rhetorical. He went on to rationalize the decision by pointing to the high cost ($2m, in his estimate) of covering the pregnancies and births of two distressed babies to AOL employees.

Clearly, those figures loom as high as Mount Everest for the company that just reported a 13% increase in revenue and a 5% increase in operating income, with profits of Tracksuits Nike Womens

Happily for most employees, this kind of cheapskate behavior trimming matching contributions isn t the norm. Only one other major company, IBM, has announced plans for a similar shift. (That news broke just over a year ago; IBM, by the way, didn t blame Obamacare or distressed babies .)

That s great, except for companies trying to contain compensation costs. The more employees jump aboard the 401k bandwagon, the greater the demand for companies to match what their employees contribute.

But on to the numbers. Is Armstrong right to complain? It turns out, probably not.

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The statement created the kind of outrage you would expect, and Armstrong was forced by public pressure and mockery to give up his plan last night. But without the offensive reference to dead babies, Armstrong might well have pulled it off.

So we wondered: is it even true? Are companies being financially punished by their largesse to employee benefits like healthcare and especially, to 401(k) plans?

First, let s revisit Armstrong s case. When commenting on AOL s initial decision to cut back its retirement benefit plan, Armstrong first blamed the cost of Obamacare. Do we pass the $7.1m of Obamacare cost to our employees? Armstrong said on CNBC on Thursday, by way of explanation. Or do we try to eat as much of that as possible and cut benefits?

Here s how AOL planned to address the higher costs of employee healthcare: it would have taken it out of matching contributions to 401k benefits. The policy change would have been be the tackiest example yet of employers trying to rein in the cost of providing employee benefits despite the fact that Americans wages have remained stagnant while corporate profits have grown.

Had you been one of the employees that AOL laid off last year, like the creative director of its Patch local news initiative, who was fired in a meeting in front of scores of Nike Vapormax Black colleagues, or had you chosen to move on to greener pastures, you d have lost that $3,600 altogether. Better yet (for AOL), your employer would have captured any rise in the value of your 401k investments in 2013 from that match money that otherwise would have benefitted you.

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AOL didn t respond to a request for comment on their policy change.

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The AOL kerfuffle is another reminder that in spite of the move from pensions to 401k plans shifting responsibility for retirement from the employer to the employee companies are still intent on paring their own costs to the bone.

That money has to come from somewhere, of course. Curious about how corporate profits fared in the same period? Well, the Bureau of Economic Analysis shows that they have increased. In fact, aftertax profits have doubled to $1.87tn in the third quarter of 2013 compared to the first quarter of 2004. The salaries of corporate executives are stratospheric. Armstrong, the AOL CEO, made $12m in 2012 four times his $3.2m salary he made just 12 months earlier, in 2011.

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´╗┐checking AOL s spurious story about retirement plans and sick babies

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Their study showed why that was. Employers with auto enrollment plans have match rates that are low enough, or a default contribution rate that is low enough, that overall plan costs aren t significantly different from companies that aren t automatically signing up employees for 401k plans, says Karamcheva.

at AOL and how it will remain, now that Armstrong has changed his mind: AOL matched 50 cents of every dollar that an employee puts into his retirement fund up to 6% of the employee s salary. That s a nice chunk of change. Let s say you earn $120,000 a year and put 10%, or $12,000, in your 401k plan. That means AOL will chip in $3,600 to your retirement.

The numbers tower so high, in fact, that the company believed that all of its 5,000 plus employees should share the pain.

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