How Reliant are Older Americans on State and Local Government Pensions?
State and local government pension plans cover about 19.5 million participants, and many participants are heavily reliant on these pensions for retirement income. Most of these plans, however, are underfunded. Based on data from the Health and Retirement Study, we examined the lifetime work histories of those observed at ages 67 to 72 in 2004, 2008, or 2014. Seventy-seven percent of single persons and 61 percent of couple households had never worked for state or local (S&L) government. Among those single and couple households who did work for S&L government, we found that they have on average more years of education and more economic resources. Among currently retired and near-retirement households, we compared economic preparation for retirement according to their lifetime employment in the S&L sector, and we examined how economic preparation would be affected if pension benefits were cut. Based on stochastic simulations, which account for uncertainty about length of life and out-of-pocket medical expenditures, we found that economic preparation for retirement among those with S&L government work histories would only be modestly reduced if their pension income were cut. Under a 50 percent cut to all pension income of households with any S&L sector work, only an additional three to four percent of these households would no longer be prepared for retirement. The change is modest because households with S&L employment have better preparation than other households; some of the cuts are paid for by reduced taxes; and the affected households will bequeath less.