Focus On… Lump Sum Distributions from Defined Benefit Plans

Source: David A. Pratt, Journal of Pension Benefits, Vol. 26, No. 1, Autumn 2018
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As one strategy to reduce risk, some defined benefit plans are allowing lump sum distributions. This practice gives rise to numerous questions, among them whether the lump sum received by the participant is equal to the accrued value he or she is giving up.

Mapping Interface Provides Neighborhood-Level Information on Children’s Outcomes

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Release Number CB18-TPS.48, October 1, 2018

The U.S. Census Bureau, in collaboration with Raj Chetty and Nathan Hendren from Harvard University and John Friedman from Brown University, released new research and a mapping interface that looks at children’s outcomes in adulthood. The Opportunity Atlas estimates children’s earnings distributions, incarceration rates, and other outcomes in adulthood by parental income, race and gender for every census tract in the United States. Users can view data, overlay their own data points of interest, and export into a data set for analysis.

Truth Decay: An Initial Exploration of the Diminishing Role of Facts and Analysis in American Public Life

Source: Jennifer Kavanagh, Michael D. Rich, RAND, Document Number: RR-2314-RC, 2018

From the abstract:
Over the past two decades, national political and civil discourse in the United States has been characterized by “Truth Decay,” defined as a set of four interrelated trends: an increasing disagreement about facts and analytical interpretations of facts and data; a blurring of the line between opinion and fact; an increase in the relative volume, and resulting influence, of opinion and personal experience over fact; and lowered trust in formerly respected sources of factual information. These trends have many causes, but this report focuses on four: characteristics of human cognitive processing, such as cognitive bias; changes in the information system, including social media and the 24-hour news cycle; competing demands on the education system that diminish time spent on media literacy and critical thinking; and polarization, both political and demographic. The most damaging consequences of Truth Decay include the erosion of civil discourse, political paralysis, alienation and disengagement of individuals from political and civic institutions, and uncertainty over national policy.

This report explores the causes and consequences of Truth Decay and how they are interrelated, and examines past eras of U.S. history to identify evidence of Truth Decay’s four trends and observe similarities with and differences from the current period. It also outlines a research agenda, a strategy for investigating the causes of Truth Decay and determining what can be done to address its causes and consequences.

Rethinking Multiemployer Pensions: A Cash Balance Solution

Source: Samuel S. Stanley, Journal of Pension Benefits, Vol. 26, No. 1, Autumn 2018
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Multiemployer pension plans are a very important part of compensation for millions of union workers. Unfortunately, many of these plans are failing to achieve their most basic objectives. But now a creative and unique new approach exists —a “Cash Balance Solution” —which offers a new way to address and to solve these plans’ financial, human resources, and business-related issues.

Declines in Child Poverty Continue in 2017; Overall Rate Still Above Pre-Recession Level

Source: Jessica Carson, Andrew Schaefer, Beth Mattingly, Carsey School of Public Policy at the University of New Hampshire, Data Snapshot, September 13, 2018

From the summary:
The official poverty measure indicates that child poverty declined by 1.1 percentage points between 2016 and 2017, according to analyses of the latest American Community Survey data released today. By 2017, child poverty across the nation was still 0.4 percentage point higher than before the Great Recession. Child poverty remained higher in cities and rural places than in the suburbs. For the first time, rates in cities dipped below the pre-recession level, although poverty is still slightly higher in rural and suburban places than in 2007.

Key Findings:
For the first time, rates in cities dipped below the pre-recession level, although poverty is still slightly higher in rural and suburban places than in 2007.

Income data from the Census may not tell full story on middle-class trends

Source: Gary Burtless and Christopher Pulliam, Brookings Institution, Up Front, September 17, 2018

…. The resulting news stories deserve our attention, but it is important to keep a vital question in mind: Does the CPS give us an accurate picture of household incomes?

In many recent years, the answer has been “No.” Compared to the national income and product accounts (NIPA) produced by the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA), the CPS often gives us a strikingly different picture of the recent trend in household income. ….

Towns Pick Up the Tab for U.S. Forest Service Staff

Source: Sophie Quinton, Stateline, September 19, 2018

….The visitor boom — while great for the local economy — is putting a strain on the public lands that are, ultimately, the reason people vacation, day-trip and retire to the Vail Valley. The cash-strapped U.S. Forest Service isn’t equipped to handle the more than 12 million people who now come to the 2.3-million-acre White River National Forest each year.

So, this year, Vail and other Eagle County governments are planning to set aside as much as $120,000 to pay for Forest Service employees to monitor trails and campgrounds and enforce backcountry rules next summer.

Communities across the country are facing similar challenges as more people visit public lands, outdoor recreation becomes more important to rural growth, and federal land managers struggle with tight budgets. The growth in tourism and population has led local governments to set aside tax dollars for a purpose they might never have considered before: boosting federal agencies. ….

City Fiscal Conditions 2018

Source: Christiana McFarland, Michael A. Pagano, National League of Cities, 2018

From the summary:
The 2018 City Fiscal Conditions survey indicates that slightly more finance officers than last year are optimistic about the fiscal capacity of their cities. However, the level of optimism is still far below recent years. Furthermore, tax revenue growth is experiencing a year-over-year slowdown, with the growth in service costs and other expenditures outpacing it. Taken together, the survey results suggest that cities are approaching the limits of fiscal expansion.

– Finance officers from the smallest cities are least likely to report that their cities are better able to meet the fiscal needs of their communities this year over last (63%). Meanwhile, finance officers from cities in the South are most likely to report feeling confident this year (81%).

– General fund expenditures are outpacing revenues, a trend anticipated to continue into next year. Although revenues are not in decline, they grew only 1.25 percent in FY 2017, and are expected to stagnate in FY 2018. Expenditures grew 2.16 percent in FY 2017, with growth for FY 2018 budgeted at 1.97 percent.

– All major tax sources grew slower in FY 2017 than in FY 2016, and all are expected to grow less than one percent in FY 2018. In FY 2017:
– Property tax revenues grew 2.6 percent, compared to 4.3 percent in FY 2016
– Sales tax revenues grew 1.8 percent, compared to 3.7 percent in FY 2016
– Income tax revenues grew 1.3 percent, compared to 2.4 percent in FY 2016

– Cities continue to rely on the same revenue generating actions as they have in the past, namely increasing service fee prices (41%) and property tax rates (28%). This year, fewer cities are instituting new types of fees (18 percent this year versus 26 percent last year).

– Employee wages (88%), public safety (78%) and infrastructure (71%) are the most common areas for which cities increased spending. Fewer cities this year are contracting or privatizing city services and more are increasing spending on personnel and workforce expansion.

– By and large, it is too soon to tell specifically how provisions of the Federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 will impact city finances, except for advance refunding bonds. Thirty-five percent of city finance officers are already seeing negative fiscal impacts associated with the elimination of tax-exempt advance refunding bonds. Sixty one percent report that the loss of this fiscal tool will have negative impacts on future fiscal health.

These trends come at a time when cities have not yet regained losses from the Great Recession and face uncertainty from federal and state partners. Despite these challenges, cities continue to balance their budgets, remain resilient and serve as engines of national economic growth.

The Impact of Job Expectations, Workload, and Autonomy on Work-Related Stress Among Prison Wardens in the United States

Source: Mara Schiff, Leslie Leip, Criminal Justice and Behavior, Online First, First Published September 28, 2018
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
Prison wardens manage both external pressures and internal challenges that affect work-related stress. Using data from a national survey of prison wardens, we examined the impact of conflicting job expectations, workload, and job autonomy on work-related stress among prison wardens. The ordered logistic regression results showed a significant and positive relationship between conflicting job expectations and work-related stress. The results also showed a significant and positive relationship between unmanageable workloads and stress on the job. We found a negative and significant relationship between job autonomy and work-related stress, though the relationship was relatively weak. The importance of this study lies in its ability to help isolate factors that affect job stress among prison wardens, which in turn may produce better organizational support, management, and human resources policy to improve conditions for prison wardens, staff, and inmates.