Is Your Pension Safe? Check this Map

Some states are in particularly bad shape, but it would be dangerous to assume that all is well with public-employee pensions anywhere in America.


If you are one of six or so million state or federal employees in the United States, recent events may be getting you a little worried about your retirement security. The potentially devastating fallout for pensioners in bankrupt Detroit is dominating the airwaves. Here is an excerpt from a New York Times article yesterday:

Vera Proctor, 63, who retired in 2010 after 39 years as a 911 operator and supervisor, said she worried that at her age and with her poor health, it would be difficult to find a new job to make up for any reductions to her pension payments.

“Where’s the nearest street corner where I can sell bottles of water?” Ms. Proctor asked wryly. “That’s what it’s going to come down to. We’re not going to have anything.”

Another:

Michael Wells, 65, retired in 2011 after working at the Detroit Public Library for 34 years. He said he still owed close to $100,000 on his house in Detroit, which was appraised recently at $25,000. “I’m totally underwater here,” said Mr. Wells, who is one of the plaintiffs in a union-backed lawsuit to stop the city from filing for bankruptcy and from reducing pension payments.

He said he viewed the pension as part of the overall pay he was promised. “It’s deferred income,” he said. “Had I not had a pension, perhaps I would have gotten several dollars an hour more and that would be O.K. I would have taken that money and invested it in some kind of mutual fund or stock.”

These are nightmarish scenarios for Detroit’s 21,000 pensioners, who stand to lose up to 90 percent of the pensions they were promised and have been expecting. Yesterday, I shared some of my personal pension anxiety in a post at the Economist. But how concerned you are should depend on the state in which you reside. According to this data, 21 states have worrisomely underfunded pension funds while 29 are in pretty good shape.   

This map gives you a quick snapshot of the states in particular trouble:


 

If you’re a public employee living in a melon or red-tinted state, you have strong reason for concern. But don’t feel smug, blue-staters: you’ll notice that Michigan seemed pretty safe when this data was compiled just two years ago. Given the apparently misguided math actuaries have been using to calculate the contributions states must contribute to pension funds in order to fulfill their obligations, it would be dangerous to assume that all is well with public-employee pensions anywhere in America.

Lateral thinking: How to workshop innovative ideas

Don't underestimate the power of play when it comes to problem-solving.

Videos
  • As we get older, the work we consistently do builds "rivers of thinking." These give us a rich knowledge of a certain kind of area.
  • The problem with this, however, is that as those patterns get deeper, we get locked into them. When this happens it becomes a challenge to think differently — to break from the past and generate new ideas.
  • How do we get out of this rut? One way is to bring play and game mechanics into workshops. When we approach problem-solving from a perspective of fun, we lose our fear of failure, allowing us to think boldly and overcome built patterns.

Are these 100 people killing the planet?

Controversial map names CEOs of 100 companies producing 71 percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions.

Image: Jordan Engel, reused via Decolonial Media License 0.1
Strange Maps
  • Just 100 companies produce 71 percent of the world's greenhouse gases.
  • This map lists their names and locations, and their CEOs.
  • The climate crisis may be too complex for these 100 people to solve, but naming and shaming them is a good start.
Keep reading Show less

Straight millennials are becoming less accepting of LGBTQ people

The surprising results come from a new GLAAD survey.

Photo credit: Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash
Culture & Religion
  • The survey found that 18- to 34-year-old non-LGBTQ Americans reported feeling less comfortable around LGBTQ people in a variety of hypothetical situations.
  • The attitudes of older non-LGBTQ Americans have remained basically constant over the past few years.
  • Overall, about 80 percent of Americans support equal rights for LGBTQ people.
Keep reading Show less