Category Archives: Pensions

Do Pensions Matter for Recruiting State and Local Workers?

Source: Laura D. Quinby, Geoffrey T. Sanzenbacher, State and Local Government Review, OnlineFirst, Published August 7, 2020
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
Many state and local governments have responded to financial challenges facing their pension systems by cutting benefits or by shifting costs to employees. Will these changes make it harder for state and local governments to recruit highly skilled workers? This study explores this question by linking individual-level data from the Current Population Survey on worker transitions between the private and public sectors to measures of state and local pension generosity from the Public Plans Database. The results suggest that state and local employers with relatively generous pensions are better able to recruit high-wage workers from the private sector, but that this advantage is lost as workers are asked to contribute more from current paychecks to prefund those benefits. The findings help inform an ongoing debate over the role that state and local pensions play in shaping the public workforce.

Pension Obligation Bonds: Yes or No?

Source: Government Finance Review, Vol. 30 no. 3, June 2020
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Pension obligation bonds (POBs) are taxable bonds that some state and local governments have issued as part of an overall strategy to fund the unfunded portion of their pension liabilities by creating debt. When economic times are bad, governments sometimes consider issuing POBs to reduce their fiscal stress, but the practice is controversial. The use of POBs rests on the assumption that the bond proceeds, when invested with pension assets in higheryielding asset classes, will be able to achieve a rate of return that is greater than the interest rate owed over the term of the bonds. However, POBs involve considerable investment risk, making this goal very speculative.

For these reasons, GFOA President and Hanover County Public Schools Assistant Superintendent for Business and Operations Terry Stone sticks with GFOA’s position that state and local governments should not issue POBs. On the other hand, Girard Miller, former chief investment officer of the Orange County Employees Retirement System with a career in public finance spanning 30+ years, suggests that, at certain times and under certain economic circumstances, a pension fund can reasonably consider POBs as part of its overall strategy.

Pension investment losses are poised to inflict material damage on US municipal credit

Source: Moody’s, March 24, 2020
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Recent US public pension investment losses are likely to severely compound the pension liability challenge facing many state and local governments. At the same time, the economic fallout from the coronavirus is reducing revenue levels and threatening the ability of governments to afford higher pension costs.

Fortifying Main Street: The Economic Benefit of Public Pension Dollars in Small Towns and Rural America

Source: Dan Doonan, Maryna Kollar, Nathan Chobo, Tyler Bond, National Institute on Retirement Security, March 2020

From the summary:
As many small towns and rural communities across America face shrinking populations and slowing economic growth, a new report finds that one positive economic contributor to these areas is the flow of benefit dollars from public pension plans. In 2018, public pension benefit dollars represented between one and three percent of gross domestic product (GDP) on average among the 1,401 counties in 19 states studied.

These findings are detailed in a new study, Fortifying Main Street: The Economic Benefit of Public Pension Dollars in Small Towns and Rural America.

This new report finds that public pension benefit dollars also account for significant amounts of total personal income in counties across the nineteen states studied. For all 1,401 counties in this study, pension benefit dollars represent an average of 1.37 percent of total personal income, while some counties experience more than six percent of total personal income derived from pension dollars.

The report’s key findings are as follows:

  • Public pension benefit dollars represent between one and three percent of GDP on average in the 1,401 counties studied.
  • Rural counties and counties with state capitals have the highest percentages of populations receiving public pension benefits.
  • Small town counties experience a greater relative impact both in terms of GDP and total personal income from public pension benefit dollars than rural or metropolitan counties.
  • Rural counties experience more of an impact in terms of personal income than metropolitan counties, whereas metropolitan counties experience more of an impact in terms of GDP than rural counties.
  • Counties with state capitals are outliers from other metropolitan counties, likely because there is a greater density of public employees in these counties, most of whom remain in these counties in retirement.
  • On average, rural counties have lost population while small town counties and metropolitan counties have gained population in the period between 2000 and 2018, but the connection between population change and the relative impact of public pension benefit dollars is weak.

Examining the Nest Egg: The Sources of Retirement Income for Older Americans

Source: Frank Porell, Tyler Bond, National Institute on Retirement Security (NRIS), January 2020

From the summary:
A new report finds that a large portion (40 percent) of older Americans rely only on Social Security income in retirement while only a small percentage of older Americans (seven percent) receive income from Social Security, a defined benefit pension, and a defined contribution account. Retirement income from these three sources is widely considered to be the ideal situation to ensure retirement security, particularly for the middle class. Retirees with these three sources of income are far less likely to face poverty and economic hardship.

These findings are contained in a new report from the National Institute on Retirement Security (NIRS), Examining the Nest Egg: The Sources of Retirement Income for Older Americans. The report is co-authored by Tyler Bond, NIRS manager of research, and Dr. Frank Porell, University of Massachusetts Boston professor emeritus.

The analysis also finds that without income from Social Security in 2013, the number of poor older U.S. households would have increased by more than 200 percent to 11 million households. Absent income from defined benefit pensions, the number of poor older households would have increased by 19 percent to more than four million households in 2013. Defined contribution plans, however, are less powerful at keeping older households out of poverty than pensions and Social Security because fewer near-poor households have assets in 401(k)-style defined contribution accounts and income from those accounts provided a smaller portion of total income. Without income from defined contribution accounts, the estimated number of poor older households would have increased by five percent.

An Introduction to Police and Fire Pensions

Source: Jean-Pierre Aubry and Kevin Wandrei, Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, SLP#69, February 2020

The brief’s key findings are:

  • Pension and retiree health benefits for public safety workers are more expensive than those of other local government workers, largely due to earlier retirement ages.
  • Perhaps surprisingly, though, their retirement benefits make up only a very small share of total local government spending.
  • Some evidence suggests that public safety workers could work longer, which may have implications for plans’ retirement age.
  • However, raising retirement ages would have little impact on government finances, particularly since it might involve higher wages to maintain a quality workforce.

Pension Reforms and Public Sector Turnover

Source: Evgenia Gorina, Trang Hoang, Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, Published: June 24, 2019

From the abstract:
Over the past decade, many states have reformed their retirement systems by reducing benefit generosity, tightening retirement provisions, introducing non-defined-benefit (DB) plan options and even replacing DB plans with defined-contribution plans. Many of these reforms have affected post-employment benefits that public workers will receive when they retire. Have these reforms also affected the attractiveness of public sector employment? To answer this question, we use state-level data from 2002 to 2015 and examine the relationship between state pension reforms and public employee turnover following the reforms. We find that employee responsiveness to the reforms was tangible and that it differed by reform type and worker education. These results are important because the design of public retirement benefits will continue to influence the ability of the public sector to recruit and retain high-quality workforce.

A correction has been published.

Infographic: Pension liabilities continue to trouble Illinois, Kentucky, Connecticut, New Jersey and others

Source: Moody’s Investors Service, October 3, 2019

Adjusted net pension liabilities (ANPL) declined in states’ fiscal year 2018 reporting due to healthy investment returns in fiscal 2017, though unfunded pension liabilities remain high for some states.

Pension liabilities continue to trouble Illinois, Kentucky, Connecticut, New Jersey and others

Related:
Medians – Adjusted net pension liabilities spike in advance of moderate declines
Source: Pisei Chea, Marcia Van Wagner, Timothy Blake, Nicholas Samuels, Emily Raimes, Tenzing T Lama, Moody’s, Sector In-Depth, August 27, 2019
(subscription required)

Adjusted net pension liabilities (ANPL) spiked in states’ fiscal year 2017 reporting due to poor investment returns in fiscal 2016, according to our state pension medians data. States typically report their pension funding levels with a one-year lag. Thus, favorable investment returns in fiscal 2017-18 will lead to a decline in pension liabilities in fiscal 2018-19 reporting.

Adjustments to Pension and OPEB Data Reported by GASB Issuers, Including US States and Local Governments Methodology
Source: Moody’s, Cross Sector Methodology, October 7, 2019

Credit FAQ: How S&P Global Ratings Will Implement Pension And OPEB Guidance In U.S. Public Finance State And Local Government Credit Analysis
Source: S&P, October 7, 2019
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On Oct. 7, 2019, S&P Global Ratings published “Guidance: Assessing U.S. Public Finance Pension And Other Postemployment Benefit Obligations For GO Debt, Local Government GO Ratings, And State Ratings Methodology.” Here, we answer the most frequently asked questions from investors and other market participants.

Elsewhere, we have also provided an overview on our approach to U.S. state and local government pensions within the context of our three government criteria: See “Credit FAQ: Quick Start Guide To S&P Global Ratings’ Approach To U.S. State And Local Government Pensions,” published May 13, 2019.

U.S. State Pension Reforms Partly Mitigate The Effects Of The Next Recession Primary Credit
Source: Carol H Spain, S&P, September 26, 2019
(subscription required)

Table of Contents:
• Average State Funding Levels Plateau With Notable Exceptions
• Many States Continue With Pension Reforms, Avoiding Backward Measures
• Most States Still Fall Short Of Minimum Funding Progress
• Despite Reforms Despite Improved Assumptions, Plans Remain Vulnerable To Market Volatility
• Demographics Influence The Funded Ratio And Budgetary Vulnerability
• Pension Costs Remain Affordable For Most States, With Notable Exceptions
• Policy Decisions, Not Markets, Will Likely Pose Greatest Future Risks
• Survey Methodology
• Related Research

Despite investment gains in 2018, U.S. states have made relatively slow progress since the Great Recession in improving funded ratios, with S&P Global Ratings’ most recent survey data indicating that the average weighted pension status across state plans was 72.5% compared with 83% in 2007. However, looking at the funded ratios alone falls short of understanding whether or not states have made progress toward improving the overall pension funding picture. Indeed, poor investment returns in select years and maturing pension plan populations have stunted state funding progress. Also, in the years immediately following the Great Recession, many states had reduced plan contributions as a short-term means of balancing budgets, resulting in funding setbacks from which many have yet to recover.

However, in recent years, many states have made conservative changes to actuarial methods and assumptions that, while hindering actuarial funding ratios, show a more realistic assessment of market risk tolerance for states, thus better enabling them to make funding progress. We have also witnessed that many states have learned lessons from funding discipline mistakes over the past ten years and better understand sources of pension liability and costs, and have therefore demonstrated a commitment to actuarially based funding. In this sense, states may be better prepared heading into the next recession despite weaker funded ratios. Yet, in our view, despite some progress, many plans’ current contributions, discount rate assumptions, and investment allocations still fall short of fully mitigating the market volatility that increasingly appears to lie ahead….

US Public Pension Landscape Series – July 24, 2019

Source: Thomas Aaron, Timothy Blake, Moody’s, Sector In-Depth, June 24, 2019
(subscription required)

Many US states and local governments, though certainly not all, face heightened credit challenges stemming from exposure to pension obligations, resulting in a highly varied and complex landscape. The severity of public pension challenges can differ substantially between, and even within, states.

Unfunded liabilities in many cases have reached historic highs, rising costs increasingly pressure some budgets, and aging demographics leave government finances increasingly susceptible to pension asset volatility. Yet in some cases, low or declining levels of pension risk bolster the credit profile of a given state or local government.

Governments grappling with pension challenges must often navigate legal protections for employee benefits that can limit reform options. However, litigation on a variety of pension reforms continues to work its way through courts across the country, offering the potential for precedent-setting decisions.

This series provides a state-by-state, in-depth review of the key issues related to pensions facing state and local governments. ….

State listing:
California
Colorado
Connecticut
Florida
Illinois
Louisiana
Minnesota
New York
Ohio
Oregon
Pennsylvania
Tennessee
Texas
Wisconsin

The Evolution of Private Sector Retirement Income From Defined-Benefit Pensions to Target-Date 401(k) Plans

Source: John G. Kilgour, Compensation & Benefits Review, OnlineFirst, Published July 19, 2019

From the https://doi.org/10.1177/0886368719864480:
Traditional employer-sponsored defined-benefit pension plans in the private sector that provided lifetime benefits have declined precipitously since 1985. They have been largely replaced by Section 401(k) plans in which investment control, market risk and longevity risk have been transferred from the employer to the participant. Most participants opted for the low-yielding money market plan default option, which proved inadequate for providing viable retirement income. The Pension Reform Act of 2006 made two important changes to 401(k) plans: (1) allowed automatic enrollment and (2) allowed target-date funds as a “qualified default investment alternative.” This article examines the evolution from defined-benefit pensions to target-date funds and the closely related collective investment trusts.