NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

State Unfunded Pension Liabilities at $4.7 Trillion

November 18, 2014

A new report from State Budget Solutions finds that state-level public pension plans are underfunded by a staggering $4.7 trillion as of 2014. Were one to apportion that unfunded liability out among the country, it would equal more than $15,000 per person.

Which states are in the worst shape? According to State Budget Solutions' Joe Luppino-Esposito, California has a $754 billion unfunded liability -- the highest among the 50 states. In second place is Illinois ($331.6 billion), followed by New York ($307.9 billion) and Texas ($296 billion).

However, as large states have larger numbers of public sector employees, simply looking at the total figure can be a misleading way to measure financial distress. Instead, Luppino-Esposito looks at "funding ratio," which compares assets to liabilities. The lower the funding ratio, the worse off a state is -- Illinois, for example, has a funding ratio of just 22 percent, meaning that it has only met one-fifth of its liabilities. Connecticut (23 percent) and Kentucky (24 percent) are not far behind.

Another way to look at pension liabilities is by looking at state pension liability per capita. In that regard, Alaska -- with a $40,639 unfunded liability for every resident - is in the worst shape. Behind Alaska is Illinois ($25,740) and Ohio ($25,028). Connecticut, New Jersey, New Mexico, Hawaii, Nevada, Wyoming and California round out the top 10.

Which state has the best pension funding? Wisconsin. Still, writes Luppino-Esposito, it's far from perfect, as the state's funding ratio is just 67 percent.

Source: Joe Luppino-Esposito, "Promises Made, Promises Broken 2014: Unfunded Liabilities Hit $4.7 Trillion," State Budget Solutions, November 12, 2014. 


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