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Research Finds State-Local Pensions Below Key Retirement Benchmark

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Most households with individuals employed in state and local government can expect to receive at retirement well below the 80% of pre-retirement income needed to maintain their pre-retirement living standards, according to new research.

The Center for Retirement Research at Boston Col­lege published this finding in a November brief, “How Prepared Are State and Local Workers for Retirement.” The brief summarizes the results of a paper that uses a Health and Retirement Study and actuarial reports published by state and local pension systems to examine whether state and local workers have more than enough money for retirement.

Households with a long-service state-local workers—those who spend more than half of their careers in public employment—have a medi­an “replacement rate,” including Social Security, of only 72%, the brief finds. The research defines replacement rate as the extent to which older people can maintain pre-retirement levels of consumption once they stop working.

The above group, the brief adds, accounts for less than 30% of households with a state-local worker. The remaining 70% of households with a short- or medium-tenure state-local worker have replacement rates of 48% and 57%, respectively. Add­ing income from financial assets still leaves most households short of the target, the brief says.

Data from the actuarial reports provide part of the explanation for these lower-than-anticipated replace­ment rates, the brief says.

Only 32% of workers who leave state-local employment each year claim an immediate benefit. These individuals have more than 20 years of service on average and receive a benefit equal to 49% of their pre-retirement earnings.

But another 27% leave state-local employment with a de­ferred benefit based on earnings at termination, which will decline in value between termination and claiming as wages and prices rise. As a result, the brief finds, the benefit will amount to less than 10% of their projected earnings at retirement.