Prelude to a State Pension Bailout



Ordinarily, insolvency means pension freezes and benefit reductions, but multiemployer pensions are run by labor unions, a key Democratic constituency. And so the House Covid bill plans to dole out an estimated $86 billion from 2022 to 2024 to 186 pensions, enabling these plans to pay full benefits through 2051. With no incentive to cut costs, there’s little reason to think the pensions will be solvent after 2051. Look forward to more spending down the road.

Bailout supporters argue they’re helping impoverished workers make ends meet, but that doesn’t add up. The average monthly benefit from a plan like Central States is a seemingly modest $1,400. But that average is skewed downward by large numbers of employees who retired after only a few years of service. The one-third of Central States retirees who receive more than $2,000 a month — plus Social Security benefits — make a bailout expensive. No one in this group is even close to being in poverty.


The larger worry is that Congressional Democrats’ willingness to bail out private-sector multiemployer pensions signals they would do the same for state and local employee plans. Public-employee pensions operate under the same loose funding rules as multiemployer pensions, and public plans in Illinois, Kentucky, New Jersey, Texas and other states are no better funded than the worst multiemployer plans.

Author(s): Andrew Biggs

Publication Date: 28 February 2021

Publication Site: Wall Street Journal