The Catholic University of America

CUA Law Dean Regina Jefferson's article "Let Them Eat Cake": Examining United States Retirement Savings Policy Through The Lens of International Human Rights Principles was published in The Harvard Human Rights Journal

“Let Them Eat Cake”: Examining United States Retirement Savings Policy Through The Lens of International Human Rights Principles

31 HARV. HUM. RTS. J. 63 (2018)


This article uses an international human rights framework to analyze and critique the effectiveness of the United States' retirement system and its underlying policies. The article challenges the ongoing pension reform debate to include considerations outside traditional economic theory, such as income inequality, the dignity of the elderly, and the irreducible mutuality of people. While a human rights analysis will not yield a precise policy prescription for the retirement savings crisis, it will serve as an additional framework within which the government's economic and social policies regarding the treatment of the elderly can be evaluated, expanding the focus and range of responses. The article provides an overview of human rights law and the concept of the welfare state as they apply to the elderly, as well as an analysis and critique of the current private retirement system through the lens of human rights law. The final portion of the article sets forth four proposals for pension reform that reflect fundamental human rights considerations aimed at increasing retirement security across the income spectrum. These proposals are as follows: (1) minimum benefits under Social Security should be restructured to prevent individuals with significant work histories from living in or falling into poverty; (2) Social Security benefits should be adjusted using a price index that more accurately reflects the spending patterns of older persons in order to prevent a decline in purchasing power due to inflation; (3) the current wage cap on Social Security taxes should be eliminated to stymie the funding shortfall of the program and to generate new revenue to help pay for the increase in minimum benefits; and (4) to augment the private retirement system, a Universal Retirement Savings Program with Minimum Guaranteed Benefits should be mandated to provide adequate retirement savings and protection against the risk of loss for all workers.

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Professor Regina T. Jefferson's
Areas of Expertise

ERISA: Pensions (Tax Policy)

Federal Income Taxation

Partnership Tax

For additional information about our professors' areas of speciality, see the Catholic University Experts page.