Public Sector Retirement Systems

Public Sector Retirement Systems



Many state and local retirement plans are on an unsustainable course, having failed to set aside enough money to fund the promises they have made.


The Public Sector Retirement Systems Project provides cutting-edge research on the fiscal challenges state and cities face as a result of their pension and retiree health promises. With the understanding that there is no one-size-fits-all solution, the project also offers technical assistance to states and municipalities as they undertake pension and retiree health care reforms to ensure their public sector retirement systems are affordable and sustainable, provide a secure retirement for workers, and preserve governments' ability to recruit and retain a talented public-sector workforce.

Why Public Pension Policy Matters

Public pension reform is one of the most daunting financial problems facing states and municipalities today. All told, state-run pension plans have racked up a pension debt of $757 billion based on the latest available data. If changes are not made to these distressed pension funds, every retiree, worker and taxpayer will be burdened with rising costs and unpaid promises for years to come.

All public employees – past, present, and future – deserve a secure retirement. Lawmakers should develop a fair set of solutions that will offer retirement security to public workers while protecting taxpayers and maintaining the state’s ability to deliver important public services.

Why Policymakers Should Care About Retiree Health Care

Public pensions, and their funding problems, have been on the scene for decades. But policymakers are starting to realize that retiree health care promises can pose similar challenges.  Just 5 percent of the impending $660 billion health care bill has been paid for and these costs threaten to grow quickly due to demographic trends and rising health care costs.

How We Conduct Our Work

A data-driven, non-partisan process is critical to achieving comprehensive, lasting public pension reform. 

Real change requires good information, thoughtful debate, and ultimately hard choices. Our reports and policy briefs are designed to give policymakers the data and analysis they need to make public sector retirement benefit systems fair, affordable, and fiscally sustainable.


April 8, 2014

The Fiscal Health of State Pension Plans: Funding Gap Continues to Grow

 Based on the most recent comprehensive data, the gap between what state and local governments have promised in pension benefits to their workers and the funding to meet those obligations continues to widen. More
September 27, 2013

Why Pew Supports State Pension Reforms

Public pension reform is arguably one of the most significant fiscal challenges facing states and municipalities today. In fact, our research shows that as of 2010, state governments had pension debts totaling $757 billion. Although some plans are well-funded, in other places, if changes are not made, retirees, workers, and taxpayers will be left with rising costs and unpaid promises for years to come. More
September 27, 2013

Kentucky’s Successful Public Pension Reform

In 2013, following a legislative stalemate and facing growing public-sector pension fund liabilities, Kentucky lawmakers passed comprehensive legislation that is projected to improve the fiscal health of the pension system by billions of dollars, ensuring that state and local governments can keep their promises to Kentucky’s public workers. More

A Widening Gap in Cities

A number of the nation’s key cities face unpaid bills for the retirement benefits they have promised their employees. This report examines pension and retiree health care funding in 61 cities—the most populous one in each state plus all others with populations over 500,000—and looks at options for reform. More
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