Posts Tagged "state and local government"
July 12, 2022
Public-Sector Pensions Weathered Pandemic
The economic turmoil in the early months of the pandemic – a plunging stock market and soaring unemployment – posed a real threat to state and local government pension funds and the workers who rely on them.
One group was particularly vulnerable: public-sector workers who aren’t covered by Social Security and lack the backstop of the federal government if their employer pension plans get into trouble.
The Center for Retirement Research has some good news for these 5 million noncovered workers living in 20 states. Their pension plans got through the first two years of the pandemic unscathed.
In dollar terms, government contributions to these defined benefit pension plans actually increased during COVID. That and a roaring stock market in 2021 significantly improved their financial condition. Of course, this sunny report is clouded by what is happening to the stock market now – it has reversed course and dropped 20 percent this year.
But the researchers’ assessment is that COVID was not the financial disaster many had feared for the public-sector workers who aren’t covered by Social Security.
The 59 noncovered plans in the study vary in size from small local pension plans like the Pittsburgh Police Relief and Pension Fund to the nation’s largest state plan, the California Public Employees Retirement System.
Congress’ financial support during COVID played an important role in stabilizing state and local governments’ finances. They received hundreds of billions in pandemic relief from the CARES Act in March 2020 and, a year later, the American Rescue Plan. The federal relief checks to families and businesses also added billions to state and local tax bases. Importantly, tax revenues snapped back after a brief drop in 2020, because high-income workers, who pay more in taxes, didn’t suffer the dramatic layoffs experienced by low-income workers.
The federal support provided the fiscal breathing room for governments to make their pension contributions on schedule. In fact, some of the states with the most poorly funded plans – namely New Jersey and Connecticut – took advantage of the fiscal windfall to make historically large contributions in 2022. …Learn More
January 25, 2022
Most – Not All – Public Workers Get Annuity
Retirement for workers in state, county and municipal government fits a certain picture: a regular monthly pension payment awaits them.
But there are important exceptions, which a recent study has filled in. A small minority of public sector workers get some or all of their retirement benefits in the form of a one-time cash payment. Doing so potentially comes at a cost: less financial security in old age.
Of particular concern are the 5 million people working in state and local government jobs that are not covered by Social Security. Social Security – like a pension – is a monthly annuity that provides some certainty about retirement income.
Still, in the larger scheme of things, the vast majority of state and local governments have retained their defined benefit (DB) pensions, even as these plans have virtually disappeared from the private sector, finds an analysis for the Center for Retirement Research by Jean-Pierre Aubry and Kevin Wandrei.
Some workers have the option of converting part of their DB pensions into a cash payment that reduces their regular monthly retirement benefits, and the research suggests that 6 percent of all retired state and local employees do so. Most government plans also offer a joint-survivor annuity that provides a lifelong payment to a deceased retiree’s spouse, but less than half of the workers who have this option actually choose it.
The 12 percent of public sector workers who do not have DB pensions are covered under various plans with a defined contribution (DC) feature. A majority of the workers with these retirement savings plans will take some or all of their benefits in the form of a one-time distribution of assets, the researchers found. …Learn More
April 1, 2021
What the Research Can Tell us about Retiring
It’s difficult to envision what life will look like on the other side of the consequential decision to retire.
But research can help demystify what lies ahead – about the decision itself, the financial challenges, and even the taxes. Readers understand this, as evidenced by the most popular blog posts in the first three months of the year.
Here are the highlights:
The retirement decision. The article, “Retirement Ages Geared to Life Expectancy,” attracted the most reader traffic. Myriad considerations go into a decision to retire. But a sense of whether one might live a long time – because of good health or simply seeing that parents or neighbors are living unusually long – is a compelling reason to postpone retirement either to remain active or to build up one’s finances to fund a longer retirement.
A recent study found that as men’s life spans have increased, they have responded by remaining in the labor force longer, especially in areas of the country with strong job markets and more opportunity. This is also true, though to a lesser extent, for working women.
The planning. The second most popular blog was, “Big Picture Helps with Retirement Finances.” It described the success researchers have had with an online tool they designed, which shows older workers the impact on their retirement income of various decisions. When participants in the experiment selected when to start Social Security or how to withdraw 401(k) funds, the tool estimated their total retirement income. If they changed their minds, the income estimate would change.
The tool isn’t sold commercially. But it’s encouraging that researchers are looking for real-world solutions to the financial planning problem, since the insights from experiments like these often make their way into the online tools that are available to everyone.
The taxes. It’s common for a worker’s income to drop after retiring. So the good news shouldn’t be surprising in a study highlighted in a recent blog, “How Much Will Your Retirement Taxes Be?” Four out of five retired households pay little or no federal and state income taxes, the researchers found. But taxes are an important consideration for retirees who have saved substantial sums. …Learn More
January 28, 2021
Smaller Pensions Don’t Spur More Saving
Most state and local governments provide their employees with traditional pensions, which are nice to have. But not all pensions are equally generous.
The monthly benefits vary from one place to the next, and some governments have cut costs by reducing pensions for their newest hires. Further, one in four public-sector workers aren’t currently covered by Social Security, because their employers never joined the system.
A logical back-up plan for these workers would be to contribute money to the supplemental savings plans that most public-sector employers provide. When the workers retire, they can add the money saved in their accounts – a 401(k), 401(a), 457 or 403(b) – to their pension benefits.
But researchers at the Center for Retirement Research (CRR) find that workers are only slightly more likely to participate in a savings plan if they work for government employers with less generous pensions – a criterion based on how much of the worker’s current income will be replaced by the pension after they retire.
This lackluster response may not be surprising. Workers can see what’s deducted from their paychecks every week but don’t necessarily understand how these deductions – combined with their employer’s contributions – will translate to a pension.
Public-sector workers are probably more aware of whether their employers are part of the Social Security system. But apparently workers don’t consider that either. …Learn More
August 6, 2020
Public-Sector Disability is Fairly Generous
About one in four state and local government employees – some 6.5 million people – do not participate in the Social Security system. They get their disability insurance, as well as their pensions, from their employers.
Whether the coverage is more or less generous than Social Security disability depends on the individual worker’s circumstance and how the state or local employer calculates benefits. But a new study concludes that public-sector workers who have a disability generally receive benefits that are at least as generous as the federal benefits.
To compare them, researchers at the Center for Retirement Research had to construct a database with each state’s and locality’s eligibility requirements and benefit payments. The sample consisted of 67 different disability programs, which cover a majority of the U.S. workers who don’t pay into Social Security.
The main thing Social Security and the public-sector have in common is eligibility – a 35-year-old must have five years of employment to receive federal disability and four to six years under most public-sector programs. One way they differ is that most state and local governments have a more liberal definition of what qualifies as a disability. Social Security pays benefits to a worker who can no longer do any job. Public-sector benefits go to a worker who can’t continue doing his current job.
The disability benefits are also calculated differently. Social Security’s progressive formula is the most generous to low-wage workers, because it replaces a higher percentage of their past earnings. But each state and local government uses the same formula for all of its workers, regardless of their earnings, and the formula gives more credit to employees who have been with their employer the longest.
What does all this add up to? The older public-sector workers, who are most at risk of developing a disability, receive relatively generous protection under the state and local programs, because the eligibility requirements are less strict than Social Security’s and because the benefits for most long-tenured employees replace a higher percentage of their earnings.
Older people who moved into the public sector late in their careers are in a different situation. …Learn More