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The Predictable SurpriseUnraveling the U.S. Retirement System$
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Sylvester J. Schieber

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780199890958

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: April 2015

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:osobl/9780199890958.001.0001

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Public Pensions

Public Pensions

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

(p.215) 20 Public Pensions
The Predictable Surprise

Sylvester J. Schieber

Oxford University Press

This chapter examines issues surrounding retirement plans for workers from the public sector. The retirement benefits of public-sector workers account for a disproportionately large share of the retirement system’s total outflow. The locked-in generosity of these public-sector plans—particularly compared with the current state of private-sector retirement plans—is fast becoming a political issue as well as a fiscal one. The chapter first reviews the scope of state and local public employee retirement plans, which are exempt from most of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) requirements. It then considers public concerns about some public retirees receiving outlandish pensions before analyzing public pensions in a compensation context. It also discusses abuses that highlight agency risk issues with public pensions, along with challenges in measuring public pension costs and paying for them. Finally, the chapter looks at the fiscal implications of growing unfunded public pension obligations and the political controversy sparked by legal protections for public pensions.

Keywords:   retirement plans, retirement benefits, public-sector workers, retirement system, Employee Retirement Income Security Act, ERISA, public pensions, compensation, agency risk

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