Pensions v 401(k)s: An Illinois Case Study

Source: Kezmen Clifton, OnLabor blog, May 26, 2017

Illinois’ pension liability is estimated to stand at more than $130 billion. The reason behind Illinois’ ever-growing pension liability is one of debate. Some attribute the deficit to legislators voting on pension bills they didn’t fully understand. Others argue that politicians chose to kick the pension ball down the road to avoid raising taxes or cutting spending on their watch. Still others, like Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner, argue the structure of the pension system itself is to blame: employees change jobs as a way to qualify for more than one pension and many seek raises in their final years as that guarantees them higher payouts during retirement.

While there is much debate about the cause of the deficit, its existence is certain. Despite being in the top 1/3 of the nation’s wealthiest states, Illinois has one of the most poorly funded retirement systems in the country. Illinois has only funded 39 cents for every dollar it has promised to pay out in pensions. The pensions of similarly populated states like New York and Pennsylvania are far better funded, with New York at 89 percent and Pennsylvania at 62 percent, respectively. It is clear that Illinois needs to rethink its current pension scheme. Some groups like Illinois Policy, a conservative think tank, advocate for Illinois to adopt 401(k)s for new government workers, but the idea has not received much traction among state employees. While the traditional debate has been between keeping traditional defined benefit plans like pensions or moving to a defined- contribution plan like a 401(k), there is a lesser explored option as well: the hybrid 401(k)-pension plan. The hybrid plan combines the guaranteed income of a pension while lowering employer contributions with a 401(k)…..