Friday, August 26, 2016 by D. Samuelson
In 2012, Consumer Reports penned an article about the serious underfunding affecting the pensions of both private and public sector employees. In it, they warned that workers in both categories “might not get everything [they’ve] earned.” The article did assure private sector workers that being “vested” meant their pension assets were guaranteed by federal law, unless their employee went bankrupt, or the pension plan had been terminated. That was when the Pension Guarantee Benefit Corporation (PBGC), a federal government pension “insurer,” would come in and at least pay a portion of an employee’s vested interest. But the PBGC wasn’t in too great a shape. At that time it was “underfunded by $740 billion.”
City, county and state government employees don’t get rescued by the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation. Neither does anyone in the military, those working in religious institutions or those holding defined contribution plans like a 401(k), profit sharing plan, IRA and others. According to Consumer Reports, pensions of local and state public sector employees – think of teachers, firefighters, municipal workers, et.al. – are generally protected “by state constitutions or laws.” Back in 2012, these “public employee pensions were . . . in a $1 trillion hole.” Fast forward to 2016 and this pension deficit has increased exponentially, regardless of historic stock market highs. According to Marketwatch.com, in 2016, local and state government employee pensions are “facing a gap of $6 trillion in benefits already earned and not yet paid for . . .”
This is devastating news for working people who have had an inherit trust in a system that would provide a secure retirement after years of hard work, consistent savings and employer contributions. A $6 trillion gap, according to Marketwatch.com, is due to the misguided projections of the “actuarial model” used. It seems that those folks doing the numbers have forgotten the fundamentals of risk vs. reward, a foundational plank of financial planning. Instead, calculations about “what a pension plan owes its current and future pensioners” ignores the “long term market risk of investments” and just counts on “returns for risky investments” before they happen.
A Fiscal Times report from 2015 highlights a number of states besieged by this dilemma of unfunded pensions. In some instances, it appears that the local taxpayer may end up being on the hook. Illinois could be looking at tax increases of $145 billion. Phoenix had to find $276 million in 2015 to pay for civilian and public safety pensions. New York was preparing to defer pension payments to the tune of $1 billion and since 2010, as reported by Fiscal Times, New York “state and municipalities have skipped $3.3 billion in pension payments.”
With interest rates at historic lows, a stock market surging to higher highs, the federal debt constantly increasing, a dollar bill worth pennies and now millions of Americans in uncharted waters concerning their retirement, we are facing what many predict to be an eventual economic collapse. There is no better time to learn to grow your own food, build your own herbal medicine chest, purify your water and seek out like minded friends and neighbors to weather the coming storm.