Census: Public Pensions Rebounding

Retirement plan assets just had their fourth consecutive quarter of growth.
by | September 30, 2011

Much has been made about the condition of the country's public pensions. State and local pensions face an unfunded liability of at least $700 billion, largely due to investments that lost money when the economic downturn began in 2008.

But new Census data shows the situation may be improving. The value of assets held by the country's largest retirement systems are at their highest level in three years, according to newly released second-quarter figures.

But the plans still haven't returned to their pre-recession peaks.

The success of pensions are crucial for taxpayers. The most recent estimates show that state and local pensions face an unfunded liability of $700 billion to $3 trillion, depending on whose projections are used. When a pension plan doesn't have the funds to pay retirees what they're owed, taxpayers make up the difference, and they can expect to see tax hikes or cuts in other areas to fund the shortfall.

The second quarter marked the fourth consecutive quarter that the investments were up, and the seventh quarter of year-to-year growth. The assets are now valued at $2.8 trillion.

Corporate stocks, which represent about a third of pension investments, continue to remain strong. Those assets, valued at $892.2 billion, were actually down from 1.5 percent from the previous quarter, but they're up 19.5 percent on a year-to-year basis.

The figures also indicate that governments are taking steps to shore up the accounts after taking major hits since 2008. While employee contributions, in the aggregate, decreased 3.2 percent from this point a year ago, governments contributions are up 20.9 percent.

The Census data is based on the assets of the 100 largest state and local public employee retirement systems, which comprise 89.4 percent of that segment.

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