Category Archives: Pensions

Designing Public-Sector Pensions for the 21st Century: A Risk-Managed Approach

Source: Roderick B. Crane, Michael Heller, Paul Yakoboski, TIAA-CREF Institute, May 2007

From the summary:
This paper examines many of the sometimes-controversial issues raised in discussions regarding the design and funding of retirement plans for public employees. However, it does so in a different way. By focusing on development of appropriate benefits and funding policies and the use of risk management principles, we hope to provide public sector policy makers a better way to develop sound and sustainable retirement benefit policies for state and local governments and their employees based on our organization’s nearly 90 years of experience providing retirement security to individuals working in the non-profit sector.

Pension Plan Freezes Slowing, Watson Wyatt Finds Most Firms Committed to Keeping Plans

Source: Watson Wyatt, July 23, 2007

From the press release:
The rate of pension plan freezes among FORTUNE 1000 firms has slowed, and the majority of companies with defined benefit plans are committed to keeping them. These are the findings of two new studies by Watson Wyatt Worldwide, a leading global consulting firm. An analysis of pension plan sponsorship among FORTUNE 1000 companies shows that the share of plan sponsors freezing their plans dropped from 7 percent in 2006 to 4 percent in 2007. New freezes reached their highest levels in 2006, when 42 additional firms on the FORTUNE 1000 list had frozen plans.

Private Pensions, the Tax Code, and the Erosion of Retirement Income Security

Source: John C. Scott, A Paper Submitted to the Conference on Empirical Legal Studies – November 9-10, 2007, posted to the web: July, 5 2007

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American workers are experiencing a long-term decline in the quality and quantity of retirement income security despite the enactment of dozens of tax laws supporting private pensions, hundreds of tax rules, and billions in lost tax revenue for over 40 years. Why is pension security eroding, and why is retirement income policy ineffective? I argue that the system of tax laws and institutions governing private pensions both directs political change as well as responses to such change in a way that is shifting risk onto workers. This paper grounds its review in the structure of pension law as found in the tax code. I first review general trends regarding retirement and retirement plans as well as the general pattern of tax legislation affecting pensions. In particular, I note the rise of the 401(k) plan, which has become the major type of private pension program in the United States. The combination of a diffuse set of tax laws governing pensions and the fragmented nature of key stakeholders creates an game-like environment in which each group and subgroup compete for changes in tax legislation at the expense of others. The paper concludes with an attempt to bridge fiscal sociology with the sociology of risk in the context of retirement policy.

Ill-Defined Benefits: The Uncertain Present and Brighter Future of Employee Pensions in Canada

Source: David Laidler and William B. P. Robson, C.D. Howe Institute Commentary, No. 250, June 2007

The problems of employer-sponsored defined-benefit (DB) pension plans in Canada raise two issues: the need for short-run measures to limit the damage; and the need for new pension models to prevent their recurring.

The DB sector’s immediate preoccupations are the result of changes in the economic environment — in particular, a decline in long-term interest rates — that caused their balance sheets to deteriorate, and of changes in accounting standards to more market-based methods that revealed the underfunded state of these plans in stark form.

The immediate policy challenge is to ensure the recovery and/or restructuring of sick plans, and the continued health of sound ones. Extra time and financial scope to work off deficits are good, but current limits on contributions to plans should rise or disappear, while legislation to establish clear title to surpluses for sponsors who must cover deficits is badly needed.

Accounting standards should remain strict, however, to ensure that emerging problems are seen and addressed. It would be a mistake to privilege government-employee plans by relieving them of the same solvency requirements that apply to private-sector plans. Another wrong turn would be resorting to government-sponsored insurance to backstop plans, since this approach creates moral hazards and future liabilities for taxpayers.

In the longer run, policy should sustain and encourage a thriving occupational pension sector that helps individuals save for old age and helps finance the investment that underpins economic growth. But DB plans were in decline long before the recent crisis, and evidence is mounting that the classic single-employer DB plan has fatal agency problems — evident particularly in the tendency for these plans to mismatch assets and liabilities in ways that exposed them to risks far larger than sponsors or participants understood.

GAO Report on Terminated Defined Benefit Pensions and Enforcement Challenges

Source: Report to Congressional Requesters, United States Government Accountability Office, GAO-07-703, June 28, 2007

To protect workers’ retirement security, the requesters asked GAO to assess: 1) What is known about conflicts of interest affecting private sector defined benefit (DB) plans? 2) What procedures does the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) have to identify and recover losses attributable to conflicts? 3) What procedures does Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) have to detect conflicts among service providers and fiduciaries for PBGC-trusteed plans? 4) To what extent do EBSA, PBGC, and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) coordinate their activities to investigate conflicts? GAO interviewed experts, including agency officials, attorneys, financial industry representatives, and academics, and GAO reviewed PBGC documentation and EBSA enforcement materials. GAO analyzed Labor, SEC, PBGC, and private sector data, including data on pensions, pension consultants, and rates of return data, and conducted statistical and econometric analyses.

The Reeducation of CalSTRS

Source: Steven Brull, Institutional Investor, April 2007

A little learning is a dangerous thing. But not when it comes to running the nation’s second-biggest pension fund. For years the California State Teachers’ Retirement System was the epitome of a creaky, mismanaged bureaucracy, toiling in the shadow of its cross-town sibling, the California Public Employees’ Retirement System. Its membership—public school and community college teachers—felt neglected. Its investment staff was underpaid. Its returns in most years were at best mediocre. That has all changed. CalSTRS has awakened from its slumber, emerging as a powerful force on the local and national stage.