(Bloomberg View)--In the Republican presidential debateWednesday night, the issue of income inequality came up withsurprising frequency.

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Why that happened is worthy of its own column; for now, let’sexplore the issue with some recent data.

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Specifically, I want to consider inequality in the funding ofour collective retirements.

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Read: 10 states that are the worst-prepared forretirement

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As a nation, we do a rather mediocre job preparing for the daywe stop working.

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We underfund Social Security, a program originally developed tocombat poverty among older Americans. As individuals, we fail tosave enough to fund our own secure retirements.

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Read: Boomer retirement confidence at 5-yearlow

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America's retirement gap

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To go deeper on the topic, let me direct your attention toCharley Ellis, founder of Greenwich Associates and former chairmanof the Yale endowment. Ellis wrote the seminal investment book"Winning the Losers Game."

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More recently, he co-wrote a sober explanatory book, includingreasonable solutions, titled "Falling Short: The Coming Retirement Crisis andWhat to Do About It."

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You can listen to our Masters in Business interview with Ellishere.

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In the meantime, consider this analysis by the Schwartz Centerfor Economic Policy Analysis at the New School for Social Researchin New York. Using the most recent Census Bureau data, theiranalysis observed that “almost half of U.S. workers didn’t have acompany-sponsored retirement plan in 2013, compared with 39 percentin 1999.”

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As Bloomberg News reported, “The lack of plans is fueling aretirement-savings crisis. Few workers save anything outside ofemployer-sponsored plans. Only 8 percent of taxpayers eligible toset aside money in an IRA or Roth IRA did so in 2010, according tothe IRS.”

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Those statistics are simply awful.

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Read: More Americans carrying debt intoretirement

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Forget for a moment the debate as to whether Social Securitywill be around (it's easily made solvent).

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Read: Aging parents and adult kids compete forretirement savings

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At present, Social Security benefits average $15,700 a year, farbelow what most people need to replace the median U.S. salary of$53,657.

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Then consider:

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• Half of U.S. workers lack company-sponsored retirementplans.

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• Only 45 percent of businesses with fewer than 100 employeesoffer 401(k)s.

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• Those who work part time, or switch jobs frequently, or workat a small company, are less likely to have an employer- sponsoredretirement plan.

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It's not just that the U.S. retirement situation is bad--it'sthat it's trending in the wrong direction.

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At the opposite end of the spectrum are the retirement plans ofchief executives. As a group, not surprisingly, they are doingexceedingly well. As Bloomberg reported Wednesday, “The retirementsavings accumulated by just 100 chief executives are equal to theentire retirement accounts of 41 percent of U.S. families--or morethan 116 million people.”

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The 100 largest chief executive retirementfunds are worth an average of $49.3 million perexecutive, or a combined $4.9 billion.

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All of these data points come from a new study by the Institutefor Policy Studies and the Center for Effective Government.

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Some of the data points are quite astonishing: “Fortune 500 CEOshave $3.2 billion in special tax-deferred compensation accountsthat are exempt from the annual contribution limits imposed onordinary 401(k)s.”

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The CEOs managed to “save $78 million on their tax bills byputting $197 million more in these tax-deferred accounts than theycould have if they were subject to the same rules as other workers.These special accounts grow tax-free until the executives retireand begin to withdraw the funds.”

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Why well-paid executives get a better tax deal thanrank-and-file workers is not much of a surprise: They are the oneswho can afford the lobbyists who insert these special dispensationsinto the tax code.

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So while we are debating income inequality, we should also bethinking about retirement inequality.

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Perhaps most vulnerable are the millennials, who came of workingage in the midst of the Great Recession.

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There are 68 million wage-and-salary workers without acompany-sponsored retirement plan, according to the EmployeeBenefit Research Institute. Millennials make up a disproportionateshare of workers without a 401(k).

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This is unfortunate: Patrick O'Shaugnessy noted in his book"Millennial Money:How Young Investors Can Build a Fortune," that as investors,millennials are planning for retirement in 40 to 50 years. Neveragain in their lifetimes will they have such a long timehorizon.

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We have a looming retirement crisis. I have yet to hear acoherent solution from anyone from either party.

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This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of theeditorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners. To contact theauthor of this story: Barry L Ritholtz at [email protected] contact the editor responsible for this story: Stacey Shick [email protected]

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Copyright 2018 Bloomberg. All rightsreserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten,or redistributed.

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