Most people are not aware of a financial crisis which may be even worse than our Federal Government issues with the budget deficit and unfunded liabilities for Social Security and Medicare. The local and state unfunded pension crisis is something that you should care about because it is big and it is coming soon. Many cities pensions are just a few years away from running out of money.
From a the report, The Crisis in Local Government Pensions in the United States by Robert Novy‐Marx, Univ of Rochester and Nberjoshua Rauh, Kellogg School of Management courtesy of the Heritage’s Foundry. full report
Chicago takes first prize in underfunded city pensions, and this in a state that already has such seriously underfunded state employee pension plans that each household in the city already owes $29,000 just for the state plans. The authors estimate that the combined underfunding of the two jurisdictions equals about $71,000 per household.
However, other city pension funds are so underfunded that they could run out of money in the next few years regardless of the amount owed per household. In order, the first 10 to run out of money unless they do some major reforms quickly are as follows:
1. Philadelphia: $9 billion underfunding ($16,700 per household) in 2015
2. Chicago: $45 billion underfunding ($42,000 per household) in 2019
3. Boston: $7.5 billion underfunding ($31,000 per household) in 2019
4. Cincinnati: $4 billion underfunding ($15,700 per household) in 2020
5. St. Paul, MN: $1.4 billion underfunding ($13,700 per household) in 2020
6. Jacksonville, FL: $4 billion underfunding ($13,000 per household) in 2020
7. New York City: $122 billion underfunding ($38,900 per household in 2021
8. Baltimore: $3.7 billion underfunding ($15,400 per household) in 2022
9. Detroit: $6.4 billion underfunding ($18,600 per household) in 2023
10. Fort Worth, TX: $2 billion underfunding ($7,200 per household) in 2023
The paper goes on to report that the total of State and Municipal unfunded liabilities is over $3 trillion. California alone has a $500 billion unfunded liability.
The time has come to reform these pensions. Contributions by public union members must increase. The retirement age to receive a full pension must be raised (with the possible exception of Police and Fire pensions due to the physical demands of these jobs). Pension benefits have to be reduced for younger workers and those who are not immediately dependent upon the benefits.
I suppose we could continue to ignore the problem and assume that the states can punt and ask the Federal government for a bailout. Yes, the Federal government with a $14 trillion debt and near $100 trillion in unfunded liabilities. No, that is not workable and it just shifts the burden. Or we could raise taxes, but given the size of these liabilities the increase would have to be so large that they would depress the economy (I would prefer that we grow the economy in order to increase tax revenues).
Promises have been made that could never be kept in order to garner votes and political contributions. Reality has set in and it is no longer a future problem that we can delay, but a pressing current issue that has to be addressed. The reaction of the Wisconsin public unions, over the proposed increases in pension and health care contributions and limiting collective bargaining to just wages, tells me that this is going to be a long and difficult battle. I hope that the American people arm themselves with the facts and press our political leaders to make the hard choices that are necessary to get ourselves out of this mess.