Wednesday, March 02, 2011

401k for Governments

The Times has an article on states looking to 401K type defined contribution plans [employee kicks in a percentage of pay, employer may match part or all of it, retiree gets back the results of investing the contributions, good or bad]. I assumed, as usual wrongly, that most states had gone to defined contribution plans decades ago.

Reagan's breaking of the air traffic controllers union is widely remembered.  What's less remembered is the redo of the federal retirement system.  Old timers, like me, are under the Civil Service retirement system, a defined benefit system [annuities are based on length of service and salary] with no social security.  During Reagan's time (1986) new employees were put on a three level system: social security, a smallish federal defined benefit annuity, and a 401K type investment plan, with matching from the government. Unlike social security, the government doesn't have a pension fund to cover my civil service annuity or the FERS annuity; those payments come out of the yearly budget. As it turns out, what I first wrote was wrong. I decided to do a little more research before posting and found this link, which explains the unfunded government liability for CSR annuities will rise to about 850 billion dollars in 2030. But the actuaries say that's okay.

The change was better for the government and employees got more flexibility through the 401k/TSP plan, though they assumed some risk.

From the Times article it seems many states are still where the Feds were before 1986.  I'm not clear whether the state pensions are indexed for inflation, which the CSR annuities. 

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