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? ….
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.
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…..
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.
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.
Many Massachusetts workers are unable to save enough money for themselves to retire on. This is partly because setting up and managing retirement plans is often too expensive for small and employers. In late 2017, Massachusetts launched a state-administered 401(k) plan that can begin to address some of these challenges. Small nonprofits, with 20 employees or fewer, can participate in the plan.
Like everyone else in the labor movement, I’m nervously awaiting the Supreme Court ruling in Janus v. AFSCME Council 31, which would weaken public sector unions by letting workers receive the benefits of representation without contributing toward the cost.
But I’ve got a unique vantage point: I work in the same building as the plaintiff, Mark Janus.
We’re both child support specialists for the state of Illinois, where we do accounting on child support cases. I do this work because it’s fulfilling to help kids and single parents get the resources they need to support themselves.
What convinced Mr. Janus to join this destructive lawsuit? Your guess is as good as mine. I do know it’s much bigger than him. He’s the public face, but this case is backed by a network of billionaires and corporate front groups like the National Right-to-Work Foundation.
But the truth is, even Mark Janus himself benefits from union representation. Here are a few of the ways:
1. Without our union, Mr. Janus’s job would probably have been outsourced by now. ….
2. Mr. Janus has received $17,000 in union-negotiated raises. ….
3. The public—including the parents and kids Mr. Janus serves—has access to resources like childcare that our union has fought to defend. ….
4. Our union blocked the employer from doubling the cost of Mr. Janus’s health benefits. ….
5. We make sure Mr. Janus’s office is warm in the winter and cool in the summer. ….
6. Thanks to our union, Mr. Janus will retire with a pension. ….
7. Mr. Janus can get sick and still have a job when he comes back. ….
8. Our union ensured that Mr. Janus could be fairly hired, regardless of his politics. ….
…. In 26 states, average teacher salaries, adjusted for inflation, were less in 2016 than they were at the end of the 20th century, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Two years ago, an Economic Policy Institute (EPI) report documented the dive in weekly wages for teachers compared to other workers with comparable education requirements. In 2015, an average teacher made 17 percent less than comparable workers in salary. Back in 1994, the salary gap was 1.8 percent. ….
…. Teachers in Oklahoma still worry about the dangers to student education of going to a four-day school week in some districts. In Kentucky, there’s been no money for teacher professional development, extended school services have been cut and schools haven’t been able to spend money on textbooks.
Arizona school districts will still struggle to fund all the needs that have piled up. Years of cuts have, for example, left the school transportation budget severely underfunded. ….
In recent years, a significant number of cities, towns, and other municipalities in the United States have found themselves increasingly unable to pay their debts. In order to offer municipalities relief from many types of debts they cannot repay, Chapter 9 of the Bankruptcy Code authorizes certain municipalities to file for bankruptcy. However, filing for bankruptcy may adversely affect the municipality’s creditors, especially beneficiaries of underfunded municipal retirement plans (who, along with bondholders, often hold “the lion’s share” of a municipality’s financial obligations). Because a number of municipalities face a “dramatic and growing shortfall in public pension funds,” many “firefighters, teachers, police officers, and other public employees” who purportedly have “a right to pension benefits at retirement” face a significant risk that their pensions will ultimately not be fully repaid. The fact that public pensions, unlike their private counterparts, are neither subject to the “vesting and funding rules imposed by” the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 nor “protected by the federal pension guarantee program operated by the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation” could, according to some commentators, further exacerbate that risk. Moreover, because courts presiding over municipal bankruptcy cases have generally been “amenable to modifying pension debt in bankruptcy,” retirees’ pension benefits may potentially be significantly curtailed when a municipality declares bankruptcy. Although many Chapter 9 debtors have ultimately opted not to cut pensions “for political or practical reasons,” courts and commentators generally accept that, under certain circumstances, municipalities “have the legal ability to shed pension debt” in bankruptcy if they so choose.
This Sidebar first explains how, under current bankruptcy law, Chapter 9 debtors have significant freedom to modify their outstanding pension obligations through the bankruptcy process. The Sidebar then explores proposals to alter the legal principles governing the adjustment of municipal pensions in bankruptcy….
….Over the last four decades, changes across corporate America have put workers and the broader U.S. society at risk. We’ll talk more about the risks in a bit, but first it’s worth outlining how we got here….
From the abstract:
As states move toward offering defined contribution retirement plans as an alternative or addition to traditional defined benefit pensions, they need to consider the preferences and long-term consequences for different groups of employees. This study looks at which plan employees choose when given the option of either a defined contribution or defined benefit plan. The strongest driver of that choice is education level where the most educated prefer defined contribution plans and the least educated stay in defined benefit plans. A unique contribution of this study is that we include region of origin as a study and determine that cultural differences influence plan selection. The study also explores the role of sex, age, and tenure. Challenging other studies on financial planning, these findings indicate that sex and age are not significant factors. This research was conducted using data from more than 4,000 employees from Florida International University and an interview with HR professionals. By understanding retirement preferences in a more nuanced way, we can better craft our approaches to retirement security and financial literacy training in public sector organizations.