Category Archives: Pensions

Graying of U.S. Bankruptcy: Fallout from Life in a Risk Society

Source: Deborah Thorne – University of Idaho, Pamela Foohey – Indiana University Maurer School of Law, Robert M. Lawless – University of Illinois College of Law, Katherine M. Porter – University of California – Irvine School of Law, August 5, 2018

From the abstract:
The social safety net for older Americans has been shrinking for the past couple decades. The risks associated with aging, reduced income, and increased healthcare costs, have been off-loaded onto older individuals. At the same time, older Americans are increasingly likely to file consumer bankruptcy, and their representation among those in bankruptcy has never been higher. Using data from the Consumer Bankruptcy Project, we find more than a two-fold increase in the rate at which older Americans (age 65 and over) file for bankruptcy and an almost five-fold increase in the percentage of older persons in the U.S. bankruptcy system. The magnitude of growth in older Americans in bankruptcy is so large that the broader trend of an aging U.S. population can explain only a small portion of the effect. In our data, older Americans report they are struggling with increased financial risks, namely inadequate income and unmanageable costs of healthcare, as they try to deal with reductions to their social safety net. As a result of these increased financial burdens, the median senior bankruptcy filer enters bankruptcy with negative wealth of $17,390 as compared to more than $250,000 for their non-bankrupt peers. For an increasing number of older Americans, their golden years are fraught with economic risks, the result of which is often bankruptcy.

Analyzing the Interplay Between Public-Pension Finances and Governmental Finances: Lessons from Linking an Economic Model to a Pension Fund Model

Source: Yimeng Yin -The Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government, Don Boyd – Center for Policy Research, The Rockefeller College, University at Albany, July 11, 2018, Paper prepared for: Brookings Municipal Finance Conference July 17, 2018

…. Research suggests that the real world differs from these assumptions, in some ways that mean the assumptions may understate risks, and in other ways that mean the assumptions may overstate risks. Investment returns may not be normally distributed and may not be independent over time. Perhaps more important, investment returns and tax revenue may be correlated: a poor economy may cause investment returns to fall short of expectations, and may also cause tax revenue to fall short. The resulting increase in required employer contributions may cause additional fiscal pressure if increases come when tax revenue is low.

We address these issues, focusing on the correlation between tax revenue and the economy, by building a small macroeconomic model that can generate internally consistent stochastic scenarios of growth in real gross domestic product (GDP) and returns from stock and bond investments. ….

Related:
View Yin & Boyd’s slides
View Quinby’s slides
Laura Quinby – Center for Retirement Research, Boston College

Present consequences of unfunded pension liabilities and ways forward

Source: Jeffrey Cheng and David Wessel, Brookings Institution, July 16, 2018

Note: This paper will be presented at the 2018 Municipal Finance Conference on July 16 & 17, 2018.

State governments with large unfunded pension liabilities are paying more to borrow from capital markets than are other states, according to Chuck Boyer of the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.

In the paper, “Public pensions, political economy and state government borrowing costs,” to be presented at the 2018 Municipal Finance Conference at Brookings this week, Boyer argues that markets view states with large pension deficits as riskier investments. His evidence suggests that states are already paying for municipal government’s unfunded pension liabilities in the form of higher borrowing costs. He asks two questions: 1) how are state governments’ borrowing costs affected by unfunded pension obligations? and 2) do states with political constraints face higher borrowing costs?

Boyer constructs a panel dataset using each state’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports for the period 2005 to 2016. He focuses on balance sheet variables—revenues, expenses, assets, and liabilities—to capture a state’s financial health and credit default swap (CDS) spreads – the premium paid to protect buyers from an issuer defaulting – to measure borrowing cost. The author reasons that CDS reflects market sentiments better than market yields because CDS are more liquid, and because they are standardized, whereas market yields may be affected by additional features of a particular bond.

Related:
Public pensions, political economy and state government borrowing costs
Source: Chuck Boyer, University of Chicago Booth School of Business, current draft: July 11, 2018

I find that public pension funding status has a robust and statistically significant relationship with state borrowing costs, as measured by credit default swap spreads. A one standard deviation increase in the net pension liability to GDP ratio is related to an 18 basis point increase in CDS spreads. This effect is most pronounced among states with constitutional protection for pension liabilities, suggesting the markets perceive these legal protections as material. I also find suggestive evidence that states with more powerful unions pay higher borrowing costs. Results are robust to using spreads from the underlying bonds themselves. These findings highlight the fact that states are already paying for potential future pension problems through higher borrowing costs.

Related: presentation slides

When Needed Public Pension Reforms Fail or Appear to Be Legally Impossible, What Then? Are Unbalanced Budgets, Deficits and Government Collapse the Only Answer?
Source: James E. Spiotto, Chapman Strategic Advisors, May 30, 2018

The problem of underfunded public pensions confronts a number of states and local governments in the United States. In the past, numerous public employers in the United States have agreed to pension benefits that now appear challenging to afford given current revenues and the increased cost of providing governmental services. Further, this challenge has been exacerbated by past failures to set aside sufficient moneys to meet the pension benefits obligations incurred to date. All of this is occurring on the heels of the Great Recession of 2007, followed by an anemic recovery, and at a time many states and local governments are faced with an aging infrastructure that must be attended to and increased demands for basic public services (sanitation, water, streets, schools, food inspection, fire department, police, ambulance, health and transportation) that must be met. Because the public pension underfunding problem pits the requirement of meeting pension obligations against the need to provide for essential public services, all citizens have an interest in the fair and equitable solution to the dilemma.

Unfortunately, a just and effective method of resolving unaffordable public pension obligations has been elusive for some public governmental employers and employees. This is due in part to promised pension benefits costs exceeding the government’s ability to pay and the failure to fund promptly the incurred obligations. In some cases, solving the problem has been complicated by the lack of any ability to adjust or modify pension benefits to those that are sustainable and affordable to the fullest extent possible without adversely affecting the funding of essential public services. This paper will provide a review of some legal and practical obstacles that have been making needed pension reform and balancing the budget difficult, if not impossible, and will suggest possible new approaches to the problem that have not yet been tried. …..

Related: presentation slides

Local government – Minnesota – Legislation will reduce pension liabilities, but changes are far from a cure-all

Source: Benjamin J VanMetre, Daniel Simpson, Rachel Cortez, Alexandra S. Parker, Moody’s, Sector Comment, June 26, 2018
(subscription required)

The State of Minnesota (Aa1 stable) approved legislation late last month that will change certain public pension benefits and modestly increase plan contributions by government employers and employees. The changes are credit positive for the state and its local governments because they will reduce unfunded pension liabilities and improve plan funding. Even after the changes, however, local governments across Minnesota, particularly school districts, will continue to face high pension burdens….

Unintended Consequences: How Scaling Back Public Pensions Puts Government Revenues at Risk

Source: Michael Kahn, National Conference on Public Employee Retirement System (NCPERS), May 2018

The argument that taxpayers cannot afford public pensions has gained traction despite a woeful lack of empirical evidence to support it. Legislators across the nation are contemplating options for the future funding of public-sector worker retirement benefits at a time when competition for finite state and local resources is fierce. The reasons are familiar: the lingering effects of recession and misguided budget priorities have taken a toll. Time and again, defined-benefit pensions for firefighters, police officers, teachers, and other public servants have ended up on the chopping block, even though plan participants have consistently held up their end of the bargain.

Unintended consequences often flow from policy actions that are made with short-term pressures in mind. There is a real risk that reducing or even dismantling public pension benefits will ultimately backfire. Tn this installment of ongoing research on the impact of public pensions on the U.S. economy, NCPERS set out to quantify that risk.

The question we asked is this: How does the payment of defined pension benefits and the investment of pension assets impact state and local economies and revenue generation? ….

Related:
Video blog

Minnesota’s New Pension Bill Is A Positive Step Toward Sustainable Funding

Source: Cora Bruemmer, Eden P Perry, Todd N Tauzer, Sussan S Corson, S&P Global Ratings, June 7, 2018
(subscription required)

Minnesota’s new pension bill is a positive step toward improving funding of the state’s pension plans, but because contributions remained fixed in state statute, there could eventually be a regression in plan funded status, in S&P Global Ratings’ view.

State and Local Government Workforce: 2018 Data and 10 Year Trends

Source: Gerald Young, Center for State and Local Government Excellence, International Public Management Association for Human Resources, and the National Association of State Personnel Executives, May 2018

From the summary:
Since 2009, the Center for State and Local Government Excellence has partnered with the International Public Management Association for Human Resources and the National Association of State Personnel Executives to conduct a study on state and local workforce issues. This year’s report contains both 2018 data on emerging issues like the gig economy and flexible work practices and longitudinal data on recruiting challenges, retirement plan or health benefit changes, hiring, and separations from service.

Illinois (State of) – Pension burden will erode credit without offsetting actions

Source: Ted Hampton, Thomas Aaron, Emily Raimes, Nicholas Samuels, Timothy Blake, Moody’s, Issuer In-Depth, May 30, 2018
(subscrption required)

When fiscal 2019 begins on July 1, the State of Illinois faces a sharp jump in its budgetary fixed costs, which include debt service, retiree healthcare, and pension contributions. These cost pressures are likely to intensify in future years.

State and local government workers preparing for retirement: Do you understand your plan formula?

Source: Natalie Kramer and Jesus Ranon-Hernandez, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Beyond the Numbers, Vol. 7 no. 6, May 2018

The National Compensation Survey (NCS) publishes information on the coverage and provisions of employer-sponsored benefit plans for private industry and state and local government workers. For workers approaching retirement age, trying to make sense of retirement options can be daunting. The NCS can provide answers to questions such as the following:

– How much of a benefit will I receive at retirement?
– If I retire early, will my benefits be reduced?
– Will my benefits be increased if I work a few more years?

This issue of Beyond the Numbers describes basic retirement formulas by using different retirement scenarios and formulas to illustrate the monthly retirement benefit. Two examples are provided for specificity…..

How Have Pension Cuts Affected Public Sector Competitiveness?

Source: Laura D. Quinby, Geoffrey T. Sanzenbacher, and Jean-Pierre Aubry, ons for the 2014 improvements, according to their, Issue Brief, April 9, 2018

Summary:
State and local data from 2005 to 2014 show the impact pension cuts have on the ability of governments to recruit, retain, and retire talented employees.

Key findings:
One of the central findings is that, especially for new hires, the implementation of pension reform hampered governments’ ability to attract new employees. This is important to note in an environment where governments are experiencing increases in retirements and are competing for talent at a time when unemployment rates, especially for those with college degrees, are relatively low.