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Thought secure, pooled pensions teeter and fall

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NEW YORK — The pensions of millions of Americans are being threatened because of trouble in a part of the retirement world long considered so safe that no one gave it a second thought.

The pensions belong to people in multiemployer plans — big pooled investment funds with many sponsoring companies and a union. Multiemployer pensions are not only backed by federal insurance, but they also were thought to be even more secure than single-company pensions because when one company in a multiemployer pool failed, the others were required to pick up its “orphaned” retirees.

Today, however, the aging of the workforce, the decline of unions, deregulation, and two big stock crashes have taken a grievous toll on multiemployer pensions, which cover 10 million Americans.

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