Source: Edited by Josh Rauh and Mark Duggan, Journal of Public Economics, August 2014
Introduction to the Special Issue on Retirement Benefits for State and Local Employees: Designing Pension Plans for the Twenty-first Century
What makes annuitization more appealing?
John Beshears, James J. Choi, David Laibson, Brigitte C. Madrian, Stephen P. Zeldes
We conduct and analyze two large surveys of hypothetical annuitization choices. We find that allowing individuals to annuitize a fraction of their wealth increases annuitization relative to a situation where annuitization is an “all or nothing” decision. Very few respondents choose declining real payout streams over flat or increasing real payout streams of equivalent expected present value. Highlighting the effects of inflation increases demand for cost of living adjustments. Frames that highlight flexibility, control, and investment significantly reduce annuitization. A majority of respondents prefer to receive an extra “bonus” payment during one month of the year that is funded by slightly lower payments in the remaining months. Concerns about later-life income, spending flexibility, and counterparty risk are the most important self-reported motives that influence the annuitization decision.
The effect of pension design on employer costs and employee retirement choices: Evidence from Oregon
John Chalmers, Woodrow T. Johnson, Jonathan Reuter
We use administrative data from Oregon’s Public Employees Retirement System (PERS) to study the effect of pension design on employer costs and employee retirement-timing decisions. During our 1990–2003 sample period, PERS calculates each member’s retirement benefit using up to three different formulas (defined benefit (DB), defined contribution (DC), and a combination of DB and DC), and PERS pays the maximum benefit for which the member is eligible. We show that this “maximum benefit” calculation results in average ex post retirement benefits that are 54% higher than if they had been calculated using only the DB formula and that employees receiving DC benefits are significantly more likely than employees receiving DB benefits to retire before the plan’s normal retirement age. Monte Carlo simulations verify that the higher costs could have been predicted at the start of our sample period. Exploiting exogenous plan changes, we show that employees respond to within-year variation in their retirement incentives and, consistent with peer effects, that they respond more strongly to these incentives when more of their coworkers face similar incentives. Finally, consistent with the emerging literature on financial mistakes by households, we show that a small but noteworthy fraction of retirees would have benefited from shifting their retirements by as little as one month.
Why do individuals choose defined contribution plans? Evidence from participants in a large public plan
Jeffrey R. Brown, Scott J. Weisbenner
We examine individual choices between a defined contribution (DC) and a defined benefit (DB) retirement plan at a large public employer. We find sensible patterns with regard to standard economic and demographic factors: the probability of choosing the DC plan decreases with the relative financial generosity of the DB plans versus the DC plan and rises with education and income. Using a survey of participants, we find that the ability to control for beliefs, preferences, and other variables not easily obtainable from administrative or standard household surveys increases the explanatory power over seven-fold. Among the important factors in the DB/DC pension choice are respondent attitudes about risk/return tradeoffs, financial literacy, return expectations, and political risk. We also find that individuals make sensible choices based on what they believe to be true about the plans, but that these beliefs about plan parameters are often wrong, thus leading to possibly sub-optimal decisions. Finally, we provide evidence that individuals’ preferences over plan attributes (e.g., the degree of control provided) are even more important determinants of the DB/DC decision than expected outcomes (e.g., the relative generosity of the plans).
Linking benefits to investment performance in US public pension systems
Robert Novy-Marx, Joshua D. Rauh
This paper calculates the effect that introducing risk-sharing during either retirement or the working life would have on public sector pension liabilities. We begin by considering the introduction of a variable annuity for the retirement phase in which positive benefit adjustments are granted each year only if asset returns surpass 5%. This change would reduce unfunded accrued liabilities by over half, and would lower the annual contribution increases required to target full funding in 30 years by 44%. Alternative measures that have similar effects on costs include increasing employee contributions by 10.3% of pay while keeping benefits unchanged; or giving employees a collective DC plan with an employer contribution of 10% of pay for future service. If there is a minimum guarantee that benefits cannot fall below their initial levels, the impact of introducing variable annuities is substantially smaller. We discuss these results in the context of models of lifecycle portfolio choice, and analyze the conditions under which lifecycle agents might receive utility gains from the implementation of variable annuities.
Reform of police pensions in England and Wales
Rowena Crawford, Richard Disney
We analyse pension reforms for police officers in England and Wales using force-level data. We quantify the impact on overall police pension plan liabilities, examining incidence across police officers, national and local taxpayers. We also examine reforms of retirement rules, especially concerning early retirement on grounds of ill-health. Differences in ill-health retirement across forces are statistically related to area-specific stresses of policing and force-specific human resource policies. Reforms in 2006 impacted primarily on the level of ill-health retirement among forces with above-average rates of early retirement. We find that residual differences in post-2006 ill-health retirement rates across forces are related to differential capacities to raise revenue from local property taxes.
Defined benefit pension plan distribution decisions by public sector employees
Robert L. Clark, Melinda Sandler Morrill, David Vanderweide
Studies examining pension distribution choices have found that the tendency of private-sector workers is to select lump sum distributions instead of life annuities resulting in leakage of retirement savings. In the public sector, defined benefit pensions usually offer lump sum distributions equal to employee contributions, not the present value of the annuity. Thus, for terminating employees that are younger or have shorter tenures, the lump sum distribution amount may exceed the present value of the annuity. We discuss the factors that may influence the choice to withdraw funds or not in this environment. Using administrative data from the North Carolina state and local government retirement systems, we find that over two-thirds of public sector workers under age 50 separating prior to retirement from public plans in North Carolina left their accounts open and did not request a cash distribution from the pension system within one year of separation. Furthermore, the evidence suggests many separating workers, particularly those with short tenure, may be forgoing substantial monetary benefits due to lack of knowledge, understanding, or accessibility of benefits. We find no evidence of a bias toward cash distributions for public employees in North Carolina.
Shrouded costs of government: The political economy of state and local public pensions
Edward L. Glaeser, Giacomo A.M. Ponzetto
Why do public-sector workers receive so much of their compensation in the form of pensions and other benefits? This paper presents a political economy model in which politicians compete for taxpayers’ and government employees’ votes by promising compensation packages, but some voters cannot evaluate every aspect of promised compensation. If pension packages are “shrouded,” so that public-sector workers better understand their value than ordinary taxpayers, then compensation will be highly back-loaded. In equilibrium, the welfare of public-sector workers could be improved, holding total public-sector costs constant, if they received higher wages and lower pensions. Centralizing pension determination has two offsetting effects on generosity: more state-level media attention helps taxpayers better understand pension costs, and that reduces pension generosity; but a larger share of public-sector workers will vote within the jurisdiction, which increases pension generosity. A short discussion of pensions in two decentralized states (California and Pennsylvania) and two centralized states (Massachusetts and Ohio) suggests that centralization appears to have modestly reduced pensions, but, as the model suggests, this is unlikely to be universal.