Category Archives: Benefits

State and Local Governments’ Fiscal Outlook: 2018 Update

Source: U.S. Government Accountability Office, GAO-19-208SP, December 13, 2018

From the summary:
What’s the prognosis for the fiscal health of state and local governments across the nation?

Our annual outlook suggests the sector will have an increasingly tough time covering their bills over the next 50 years. Our model shows both revenue and spending will increase; however, spending will rise faster. Revenues may be insufficient to sustain the amount of government service currently provided.

Our model also suggests health care costs will largely drive the spending increases—in particular, Medicaid spending and spending on health benefits for state and local government employees and retirees.
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Did California Paid Family Leave Impact Infant Health?

Source: Ariel Marek Pihl, Gaetano Basso, Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, Volume 38 Issue 1, Winter 2019
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
The effects of paid parental leave policies on infant health have yet to be established. In this paper we investigate these effects by exploiting the introduction of California Paid Family Leave (PFL), the first program in the U.S. that specifically provides working parents with paid time off for bonding with a newborn. We measure health using the full census of infant hospitalizations in California and a set of control states, and implement a differences‐in‐differences approach. Our results suggest a decline in infant admissions, which is concentrated among those causes that are potentially affected by closer childcare (and to a lesser extent breastfeeding). Other admissions that are unlikely to be affected by parental leave do not exhibit the same pattern.

Rising U.S. States’ OPEB Liabilities Signal Higher Costs Ahead

Source: S&P Global Ratings, November 28, 2018
(subscription required)

Other postemployment benefit (OPEB) liabilities, which consist primarily of retiree health care plans, are a growing concern for certain states’ credit quality and require attention to control higher future costs. Total unfunded state OPEB liabilities have increased significantly for the third year in a row, according to S&P Global Ratings’ latest survey of U.S. states.

Latinos’ Retirement Insecurity in the United States

Source: Jennifer Erin Brown, National Institute on Retirement Security, December 2018

From the summary:
This report finds that inequalities in access and eligibility to employer-sponsored retirement plans are contributing to persistent retirement savings gaps for Latinos. As a result, Latinos are falling even further behind in preparing for retirement. Only 31 percent of all working age Latinos participate in workplace retirement plans, resulting in a median retirement account balance equal to $0.
The research finds that:
– Access and eligibility to an employer-sponsored retirement remains the largest hurdle to Latino retirement security.
– The retirement plan participation rate for Latino workers (30.9%) is about 22 percentage points lower than participation rate of White workers (53%).
– When a Latino has access and is eligible to participate in a plan, they show slightly higher take-up rates when compared to others races and ethnicities.
– For working Latinos who are saving, their average savings in a retirement account is less than one-third of the average retirement savings of White workers. Overall, less than one percent of Latinos have retirement accounts equal to or greater than their annual income.

Stability in Overall Pension Plan Funding Masks a Growing Divide

Source: Jean-Pierre Aubry, Caroline V. Crawford and Kevin Wandrei, Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, SLP#62, October 2018

The brief’s key findings are:
– Under traditional accounting rules, the aggregate funded ratio for state and local pension plans in 2017 was 72 percent, largely unchanged from recent years.
– This overall stability, however, masks a growing gap among plans: the average funded ratio was 90 percent for the top third but just 55 percent for the bottom third.
– The plans in the bottom third are in worse shape because, on average, they receive lower long-term investment returns and pay less of their required contributions.
– In addition, all plans face the possibility of a market downturn, which could set back funding for several years.

How Much Income Do Retirees Actually Have?

Source: Anqi Chen, Alicia H. Munnell and Geoffrey T. Sanzenbacher, Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, IB#18-20, November 2018

The brief’s key findings are:
– Recent research has re-documented that the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey (CPS) understates retirement income.
– Some have wondered if this problem also applies to other surveys and calls into question decades of research that suggest many are ill-prepared for retirement.
– To answer this question, the analysis compared estimates from five commonly used national surveys to administrative data from the IRS and Social Security.
– This comparison shows that:
– the CPS continues to substantially understate retirement income, but
– the other four surveys – the SCF, HRS, SIPP, and PSID – track closely with administrative data, and
– estimates of retirement preparedness using a reliable survey find that roughly half of older households may fall short in retirement.

Related:
Working Paper

Prefunding Public Sector Retiree Health Benefits: The California Example

Source: John G. Kilgour, Compensation & Benefits Review, OnlineFirst, First Published November 1, 2018

From the abstract:
Most state and local governments have historically funded their retiree health care benefits on a pay-as-you-go basis. This has resulted in massive amounts of unfunded liability in many states including the five largest states of California, Florida, Illinois, New York and Texas. Recent accounting and reporting rules changes by the Governmental Accounting Standards Board has made these liabilities more visible and has resulted in more attention being paid to this problem. California has adopted a plan to pay off its huge unfunded retiree health benefit liability by 2044. It might serve as an example for other states with similar problems.

Thanks To A Strong Economy, California’s School Districts Can Face Continued Pension Increases–Though Will This Last?

Source: S&P Global Ratings, November 8, 2018
(subscription required)

Key Takeaways

– School revenue increases, driven by a strong state economy, have far outpaced nominal growth in required pension contributions.
– Although the share of district expenditures for pension contributions has increased, and will likely continue to grow, increases to median carrying charges have been sustainable.
– Most districts are more than two-thirds through the scheduled rise in pension contributions, and we expect growth in contribution rates will slow and stabilize over the next several years.
– Districts have not made significant pension-driven cuts to their operations to date, but may reduce salary increases and headcount through attrition moving forward.
– If the state experiences a recession, volatility in state funding could be a more likely source of adverse credit pressure for some districts.

Health Benefits In 2018: Modest Growth In Premiums, Higher Worker Contributions At Firms With More Low-Wage Workers

Source: Gary Claxton, Matthew Rae, Michelle Long, Anthony Damico, and Heidi Whitmore, Health Affairs, Vol. 37 no. 11, November 2018
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
The annual Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation Employer Health Benefits Survey found that in 2018 the average annual premium for single coverage rose 3 percent to $6,896 and the average annual premium for family coverage rose 5 percent to $19,616. Covered workers contributed 18 percent of the cost for single coverage and 29 percent of the cost for family coverage, on average, with considerable variation across firms. Eighty-five percent of covered workers face a general annual deductible before they use most services, including the 29 percent of covered workers who are enrolled in a high-deductible health plan with a savings option. The share of firms covering services provided via telemedicine has increased steadily over the past several years. Nearly a quarter of large employers expect the elimination of the individual mandate to result in lower take-up in plan offerings.