Covering 14 million state and local government employees, public pension plans typically provide lifetime retirement benefits based on years of service and the salary earned near the end of a career. These pensions provide meaningful retirement security to employees covered by a plan for a full career, but offer few benefits to shorter-term employees, a drawback that is becoming increasingly problematic as people change jobs more frequently.
According to preliminary 2015 data, state and local pension debt now exceeds a combined $1.5 trillion. Strong returns on investment (averaging 17 percent in 2014) have helped to reduce the debt, but the message is still clear: many states are facing a pension crisis.
The table below displays benefit rules for the state-administered plans in our database.
Many states and municipalities are struggling to fund defined benefit pension plans for their employees. Between 2009 and 2013, in order to improve their pension status, almost every state implemented some combination of lower benefit accruals and higher employer or employee contributions. Numerous cities made changes as well for similar reasons.
The gap between the total assets reported by state pension systems across the United States and the benefits promised to workers, now reported as the net pension liability, reached $1.1 trillion in fiscal year 2015, the most recent year for which complete data are available. That represents an increase of $157 billion, or 17 percent, from 2014.
Our pension report card and interactive map grade state-administered retirement plans on their financing; how much retirement security they provide to short- and long-term employees; and the workforce incentives they create for younger, older, and mid-career employees.