Policy Options for State Pension Systems and Their Impact on Plan Liabilities

31 Pages Posted: 18 Oct 2010 Last revised: 20 Oct 2010

See all articles by Joshua D. Rauh

Joshua D. Rauh

Stanford Graduate School of Business; Hoover Institution; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Robert Novy-Marx

Simon Business School, University of Rochester; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Date Written: October 2010

Abstract

We calculate the present value of state pension liabilities under existing policies, and separately under policy changes that would affect pension payouts including cost of living adjustments (COLAs), retirement ages, and buyout schedules for early retirement. Liabilities if plans were frozen as of June 2009 would be $3.2 trillion if capitalized using taxable municipal curves, which credit states for a possibility of default in the same states of the world as general obligation debt, and $4.4 trillion using the Treasury curve. Under the typical actuarial method of recognizing future service and wage increases, liabilities are $3.6 trillion and $5.2 trillion using municipal curves and Treasury curves respectively. Compared to $1.8 trillion in pension fund assets, the baseline level of unfunded liabilities is therefore around $3 trillion under Treasury rates. A one percentage point reduction in COLAs would reduce total liabilities by 9‐11%, implementing actuarially fair early retirement could reduce them by 2‐5%, and raising the retirement age by one year would reduce them by 2‐4%. Even relatively dramatic policy changes, such as the elimination of COLAs or the implementation of Social Security retirement age parameters, would leave liabilities around $1.5 trillion more than plan assets under Treasury discounting. This suggests that taxpayers will bear the lion's share of the costs associated with the legacy liabilities of state DB pension plans.

Suggested Citation

Rauh, Joshua D. and Novy-Marx, Robert, Policy Options for State Pension Systems and Their Impact on Plan Liabilities (October 2010). NBER Working Paper No. w16453. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1692516

Joshua D. Rauh (Contact Author)

Stanford Graduate School of Business ( email )

655 Knight Way
Stanford, CA 94305-5015
United States

Hoover Institution ( email )

Stanford, CA 94305-6010
United States

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Robert Novy-Marx

Simon Business School, University of Rochester ( email )

Rochester, NY 14627
United States

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) ( email )

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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