Sunday, August 08, 2010

The Trillion Dollar Gap: Underfunded State Retirement Systems

$1 trillion. That’s the gap at the end of fiscal year 2008 between the $2.35 trillion states had set aside to pay for employees’ retirement benefits and the $3.35 trillion price tag of those promises.

Why does it matter? Because every dollar spent to reduce the unfunded retirement liability cannot be used for education, public safety and other needs. Ultimately, taxpayers could face higher
taxes or cuts in essential public services.

• In 2000, just over half the states had fully funded pension systems. By 2006, that number had shrunk to six states. By 2008, only four—Florida, New York, Washington and Wisconsin—could make that claim.

• In eight states—Connecticut, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, Rhode Island and West Virginia—more than one-third of the total pension liability was unfunded. Two states—Illinois and Kansas—had less than 60 percent of the necessary assets on hand.

• Nine states were deemed solid performers, having enough assets to cover at least 7.1 percent—the 50-state average—of their non-pension liabilities. Only two states—Alaska and Arizona—had 50 percent or more of the assets needed.

• Forty states were classified as needing improvement, having set aside less than 7.1 percent of the funds required. Twenty of these have no assets on hand to cover their obligations.

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Original content Bob DeMarco, All American Investor