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15 States With the Worst Public Pensions

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Public pensions took a beating during the Great Recession of 2008, and a recent report from the Equable Institute showed there to be no net recovery from those losses. The report also noted that total unfunded liabilities for statewide plans had increased from nearly $100 billion in 2001 to $1.35 trillion in 2019, with an estimated 2020 total of $1.62 trillion as a result of negative cash flows and market underperformance.

Unsurprisingly, the pandemic had something to do with that: Half of the plans that were at least 90% funded by the end of 2019 dropped to 60%-90% funded as a consequence of COVID-19. Additionally, benefits payments are increasing as more people retire, contributing to the negative cash flow, which as of 2019 amounted to $113 billion.

A new study from examines which states in the nation are better positioned to continue funding their pensions—and which ones might see rougher waters ahead.

To assemble their study, GOBankingRates analyzed all 50 states using three factors:

  1. Unfunded pension liabilities for 2016 and 2017;
  2. Unfunded pension liabilities per capita for 2016 and 2017;
  3. Funding ratio of public pension plans for 2016 and 2017, using data from the American Legislative Exchange Council.

When combining scores, GOBankingRates gave half weight to unfunded pension liabilities because larger states have larger liabilities.

In the plus column, the study says Kansas is the top state for public pensions, having dropped its total unfunded liabilities by 5.4%, the largest decrease in the country. Utah, New York, South Dakota, and Tennessee round out the top five.

See our slideshow above for the 15 states in the most potential pension trouble, and click here for the full study.