The Methuselah Annuity

Public employees are living longer than expected,                            deepening the state pension crisis.

By Steven Malanga | The second-longest bull market in American history hasn’t stopped the deterioration of state and local pension funds, whose unfunded debt has almost quadrupled—by their own accounting—from about $360 billion in 2007 to $1.4 trillion today. Having relied on overly optimistic and inaccurate financial assumptions for decades, public pension administrators are now forced to acknowledge that the systems owe much more than previously thought. Even as local governments [such as Fullerton] struggle to pay for this debt, it keeps growing.

Concerned that mortality tables for private-sector workers don’t accurately reflect what’s going on among retired government employees, the Society of Actuaries conducted a three-year study of public-pension retirement systems, evaluating approximately 580,000 deaths between 2008 and 2013, across 78 public-pension plans. The study found that, on average, female teachers were living 90 years, while male teachers lived 87.7 years. Female government workers in the general public-pension plans lived to 88.5; male government workers, 85.5. By contrast, the Social Security Administration’s life expectancy tables for the U.S. population show that men who reach 65 can expect on average to live 84.3 years, and women 86.7 years. A Society of Actuaries study of private-sector pension plans shows that members live longer than the general public but shorter than many government workers: men in these systems live on average to about 85.6 years old, and women to slightly more than 87.6 years old.

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