The way major U.S. companies provide for retiring workers has been shifting for about three decades, with more dropping traditional pensions every year. The first full generation of workers to retire since this turn offers a sobering preview of a labor force more and more dependent on their own savings for retirement.

Years ago, Coomer and his co-workers at the Tulsa plant of McDonnell Douglas, the famed airplane maker, were enrolled in the company pension, but in 1994, with an eye toward cutting retirement costs, the company closed the plant. Now, The Washington Post found in a review of those 998 workers, that even though most of them found new jobs, they could never replace their lost pension benefits and many are facing financial struggles in their old age: 1 in 7 has in their retirement years filed for bankruptcy, faced liens for delinquent bills, or both, according to public records.

Those affected are buried by debts incurred for credit cards, used cars, health care and sometimes, the college educations of their children.