Warnings of looming pension bankruptcy aren’t just overblown. They’re politically dangerous.
While many current retirees are reasonably comfortable because they have pensions, the future does not look bright for those yet to retire.
Traditional defined-benefit pensions are rapidly disappearing in the private sector—less than 15 percent of workers have them. Most public sector workers still have them—more than 20 million are either now receiving or looking forward to a pension. However, public sector pensions are coming under attack from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and other right-wing groups.
Over the last four decades employers have been anxious to convert the traditional defined-benefit pensions into defined-contribution 401(k) plans.
The difference is that with a defined benefit, the worker is secure while the employer does not know exactly how much it will have to pay in. Workers are guaranteed a lifetime benefit based on their salary and years of service; the employer’s bill depends on the worker’s longevity and on stock market performance.
With a defined-contribution plan, the employer knows just how much it will pay each year, and the worker shoulders all the uncertainty. This means that workers face the risk that the market will plunge just after they retire—and they may quite possibly outlive their savings.
By getting rid of defined-benefit plans, employers are transferring risk to workers. In addition, they often contribute less to a defined-contribution plan than to the defined-benefit plans they replaced, in effect cutting workers’ pay. ….
Source: Joshua J. Waldbeser and Heather B. Abrigo, Journal of Pension Benefits, Vol. 25, No. 1, Autumn 2017
This article examines the requirements and standards of conduct associated with social investments in ERISA plans with an emphasis toward reducing risks and protecting participants’ interests.
From the summary:
This issue brief examines whether state and local borrowing costs have become more sensitive to pensions since the financial crisis.
The brief’s key findings include:
Rating agencies have begun to explicitly account for pensions in their methodologies;
Several governments have experienced downgrades attributable, in part, to their pension challenges;
Pension funded status can have a meaningful impact on the borrowing costs for a municipality; and
Adequate funding, monitoring, and management of public pensions should be an important component of state and local governments’ fiscal management.
From the introduction:
Unlike in the private sector, nearly all employees of state and local government are required to share in the cost of their retirement benefit. Employee contributions typically are set as a percentage of salary by statute or by the retirement board. Although investment earnings and employer contributions account for a larger portion of total public pension fund revenues, by providing a consistent and predictable stream of revenue to public pension funds, contributions from employees fill a vital role in financing pension benefits. Reforms made in the wake of the 2008-09 market decline included higher employee contribution rates in many states. This issue brief examines employee contribution plan designs, policies and recent trends.
From the tip sheet:
This survey provides national summary data on the revenues, expenditures and composition of assets of the largest defined benefit public employee pension systems for state and local governments. The report produces three tables: Tables 1 and 3 include data on cash and security holdings, and Table 2 provides data on earnings on investments, contributions and payments.
Congress jeopardized the future of state plans to help private employees save for retirement. States don’t seem to care.
From the summary:
Public employees with retirement plan choice overwhelmingly choose defined benefit pension plans over defined contribution 401(k)-type individual accounts.
Decisions, Decisions: An Update on Retirement Plan Choices for Public Employees and Employers, finds that public sector employees with retirement plan choice overwhelming choose defined benefit (DB) pension plans over 401(k)-type defined contribution (DC) individual accounts.
Among the eight states studied that offer employees such a choice, the DB pension take-up rates in 2015 were 80 percent or higher in six states. Two of the plans studied had pension take-up rates higher than 95 percent, while Florida and Michigan had take-up rates of 76 percent and 75 percent, respectively. Importantly, the research finds that even when the retirement plan default option favors a DC plan, most employees still select a DB pension plan.
For example, in Washington the default retirement plan is a combination DB/DC plan. Employees must affirmatively act to elect to participate in the DB pension plan instead, and they do. The majority of newly-hired employees – six out of every ten new hires – actively choose a pension plan.
After many fits and false starts to pension reform, Pennsylvania’s governor has a signed a measure that establishes a hybrid defined benefit/defined contribution plan for new state employees. Although some industry observers believe the new law is a step in the right direction, several others said the switch to a hybrid DB/DC plan does little — if anything — to solve the state’s core underfunding problem…..
…. Both Ms. Childers and Ms. Oakley cited West Virginia and Alaska as two states that decided to switch to a DC plan from a DB plan for state employees — and it didn’t go well for either. In 1991, West Virginia closed its teacher retirement system to new employees to address its underfunding issue, according to a 2016 NIRS survey shared by Ms. Oakley. After 10 years, the replacement DC plan was costing the state twice as much, so it went back to a pension. ….
From the press release:
State initiatives aimed at helping millions of Americans retire with improved financial security have the momentum to succeed and overcome setbacks, a white paper released today by the National Conference on Public Employee Retirement Systems (NCPERS) has found.
The 36-page white paper, “Secure Choice 2.0: States Blazing a Path to Retirement Security for All,” marks two milestones in the growing movement among states to expand workplace retirement savings programs for private-sector employees:
– Six years ago, in September 2011, NCPERS laid out the rationale for state-facilitated retirement programs for private-sector workers in a white paper, “The Secure Choice Pension: A Way Forward for Retirement Security in the Private Sector.”
– Five years ago, in September 2012, California became the first state to formally act on the Secure Choice model by passing the Secure Choice Retirement Savings Trust Act, which established a board and authorized a comprehensive feasibility study. ….
…..The white paper covers three broad topics: A history of how the Secure Choice approach gained popularity, details on various initiatives underway in the states, and perspectives on what challenges and hurdles states face, especially following the withdrawal earlier this year of ERISA Safe Harbor rules that were designed to make it easier for states to develop their own so-called Auto-IRA programs. In addition, it includes appendixes on state and local developments, model legislation, helpful organizations and websites, and models projecting various savings scenarios….