A reform of France’s pension system is set to push up the minimum retirement age from 62 to 64. The government has said the measures are needed. But most French, and even a number of economists, disagree.
The demonstration on a recent Thursday afternoon could be a bad omen for President Emmanuel Macron. About 80,000 people gathered in Paris, and over 1 million across France — more than at any other French protest in over a decade. They were there to show their opposition to the government’s pension reform plans, which even some economists disapprove of.
Protesters in the street leading from Place de la Republique to Place de la Bastille in northeastern Paris were holding up placards saying things like “I love my pension” and “This [reform] is not inevitable, it does not create social justice.”
But the government has said the reforms are necessary to save France’s pay-as-you-go system, where workers pay for pensions through their levies. “The ratio of workers to pensioners is going down and that is threatening our system. With this project, we’ll guarantee the future of our retirement model,” Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said before the Senate in mid-January.
As opposed to certain other European countries, France’s pension system does not include any capital-funded elements. It comprises general branches for private employees and public servants, and 27 so-called special pension schemes for, for example, ballet dancers or police officers that benefit from an earlier retirement.
The government now aims to increase the system’s overall minimum retirement age from 62 to 64 years by 2030. And from 2027 on, people will need to work for 43 years — instead of the current 42 — to receive a full-rate pension.
Macron’s plans would maintain an earlier retirement for people who started working at a young age and preserve certain special pension schemes. Others, such as the plans for metro drivers in Paris, are to be cut. The government also aims to increase the minimum pension by about €100 ($108) to €1,200 per month.
Money is, of course, Macron’s main argument. The reform is based on a report by a government-mandated expert committee that predicts pension payments will amount to up to 14.7% of GDP in 2032, instead of the current 13.8%.
The debt ceiling is normally a dull topic, and many have understandably neglected to follow along. To recap, the debt ceiling is the artificial cap Congress places on the amount of money the government can borrow. As Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen and others have pointed out, there is little practical reason for the debt ceiling to exist at all. From a technical point of view, it is a formality to authorize the Treasury to pay bills the government has already incurred. Through creative accounting, the Treasury can keep paying for a few more months, and then it will have to stop unless Congress votes to raise the debt ceiling.
All sides agree that the US government deliberately defaulting on debts would be the financial equivalent of an atom bomb, causing immediate painful shocks across the world economy and unpredictable long-term effects. In order to avoid this scenario, voting to raise the debt ceiling is usually a matter of course — though the number of near and actual government shutdowns from Congress playing chicken with the ceiling have increased in recent decades.
But it might be different this time. As Politico reported last week, a number of former government officials who negotiated during previous standoffs over the debt ceiling think there’s much less room for a negotiated settlement this year.
The main reason is that, at least on the surface, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy is in a weak position, effectively held hostage by conditions that were imposed on him by the most extreme members of the House Republican conference during his election to speaker. Those conditions specifically require significant spending cuts in exchange for raising the debt ceiling.
Democrats also argue that though Republicans insist on reducing spending, they have refused to make specific demands for what they want cut. Here is where The Shock Doctrine might provide a hint of what’s to come. The idea of privatizing Social Security has been “lying around” since George W. Bush’s presidency. Joe Biden himself has a long, well-documented history of trying to cut Social Security and Medicare, though in public statements since 2020 he has consistently said he would not agree to do so.
Kevin McCarthy and other Republicans have repeatedly floated the idea of cutting the popular programs over the past year. While McCarthy appeared to abruptly back off the idea of cutting Social Security and Medicare as part of the debt ceiling negotiations on Sunday, his ambiguous promise to “strengthen” the programs without specifying what that means leaves plenty of room for privatization.
At least 1.1 million people protested on the streets of Paris and other French cities Thursday amid nationwide strikes against plans to raise the retirement age — but President Emmanuel Macron insisted he would press ahead with the proposed pension reforms.
Emboldened by the mass show of resistance, French unions announced new strikes and protests Jan. 31, vowing to try to get the government to back down on plans to push up the standard retirement age from 62 to 64. Macron says the measure – a central pillar of his second term — is needed to keep the pension system financially viable, but unions say it threatens hard-fought worker rights.
Unions propose a tax on the wealthy or more payroll contributions from employers to finance the pension system instead.
Polls suggest most French people oppose the reform, and Thursday was the first public reaction to Macron’s plan. Strikes severely disrupted transport, schools and other public services, and more than 200 rallies were staged around France.
Under the planned changes, workers must have worked for at least 43 years to be entitled to a full pension. For those who do not fulfil that condition, like many women who interrupted their career to raise children or those who studied for a long time and started working late, the retirement age would remain unchanged at 67.
Those who started to work under the age of 20 and workers with major health issues would be allowed early retirement.
Retirement rules vary widely from country to country, making direct comparisons difficult. The official retirement age in the U.S. is now 67, and countries across Europe have been raising pension ages as populations grow older and fertility rates drop.
In its lame duck session last month, Congress tucked a sleeper section into its 4,000-page omnibus spending bill. The controversial Financial Data Transparency Act (FDTA) swiftly came out of nowhere to become federal law over the vocal but powerless objections of the state and local government finance community. Its impact on thousands of cities, counties and school districts will be a buzzy topic at conferences all this year and beyond. Meanwhile, software companies will be staking claims in a digital land rush.
The central idea behind the FDTA is that public-sector organizations’ financial data should be readily available for online search and standardized downloading, using common file formats. Think of it as “an http protocol for financial data” that enables an investor, analyst, taxpayer watchdog, constituent or journalist to quickly retrieve key financial information and compare it with other numbers using common data fields. Presently, online users of state and local government financial data must rely primarily on text documents, often in PDF format, that don’t lend themselves to convenient data analysis and comparisons. Financial statements are typically published long after the fiscal year’s end, and the widespread online availability of current and timely data is still a faraway concept.
So far, so good. But the devil is in the details. The first question is just what kind of information will be required in this new system, and when. Most would agree that a complete download of every byte of data now formatted in voluminous governmental financial reports and their notes is overwhelming, unnecessary and burdensome. Thus, a far more incremental and focused approach is a wiser path. For starters, it may be helpful to keep the initial data requirements skeletal and focus initially on a dozen or more vital fiscal data points that are most important to financial statement users. Then, after that foundation is laid, the public finance industry can build out. Of course, this will require that regulators buy into a sensible implementation plan.
The debate over information content requirements should focus first on “decision-useful information.” Having served briefly two decades ago as a voting member of the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB), contributing my professional background as a chartered financial analyst, I can attest that almost every one of their meetings included a board member reminding others that required financial statement information should be decision-useful. A key question, of course, is “useful to whom?”
PERS consists of two separate plans: one for police and fire members (the safety plan); and one for everyone else (the regular plan).
The annual contribution rates for safety plan members will rise to 50 percent in July — which means taxpayers must send PERS an additional 50 cents for every $1 in salary paid to police officers and firefighters. The contribution rate for regular plan members, which includes teachers, will rise to 33.5 percent of salary.
PERS costs are split evenly between taxpayers and the employee, with the employee typically paying their half through an equivalent salary reduction. This means that regular plan members, which include teachers, will see their paychecks reduced by nearly 17 percent annually starting this July — a rate that is higher than what any other group of comparable public employees nationwide pays for their respective PERS plan.
Unfortunately, these record-high contributions will not be enough to stop PERS’s debt from continuing to grow, according to the system’s just-released actuarial report.
Indeed, PERS’s actuary had determined that much larger rate increases are needed (37.5 percent for regular plan members and 57.5 percent for safety members), but the PERS Board directed the actuary to “phase-in” the necessary cost increase incrementally over four years, rather than all at once. But there is a cost to delaying the implementation of the necessary contribution rate increases — more debt, and thus a greater likelihood of future rate hikes.
Author(s): Robert Fellner
Publication Date: 9 Jan 2023
Publication Site: Nevada Policy Research Institute
Twenty states recorded annual shortfalls in fiscal year 2020, when the coronavirus pandemic triggered a public health crisis, a two-month recession, and substantial volatility in states’ balance sheets. States can withstand periodic deficits, but long-running imbalances—such as those carried by nine states—can create an unsustainable fiscal situation by pushing off some past costs for operating government and providing services onto future taxpayers.
States are expected to balance their budgets every year. But that’s only part of the picture of how well revenue—composed predominantly of tax dollars and federal funds—matches spending across all state activities. A look beyond states’ budgets at their own financial reports provides a more comprehensive view of how public dollars are managed. In fiscal 2020, a historic plunge in tax revenue collections and a spike in spending demands were met with an initial influx of federal aid to combat the pandemic. The typical state’s total expenses and revenues grew faster than at any time since at least fiscal 2002, largely thanks to the unprecedented federal aid. But spending growth outpaced revenue growth in all but five states (Idaho, Maryland, Missouri, South Dakota, and Virginia). And 20 states recorded annual shortfalls—the most since 2010 and four times more than in fiscal 2019.
Despite the sudden increase in annual deficits, most states collected more than enough aggregate revenue to cover aggregate expenses over the long-term. But the nine states that had a 15-year deficit (New Jersey, Illinois, Connecticut, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Maryland, Kentucky, New York, and Delaware) —or a negative fiscal balance—carried forward deferred costs of past services, including debt and unfunded public employee retirement liabilities. Between 2006 and 2020, New Jersey accumulated the largest gap between its revenue and annual bills, taking in enough to cover just 91.9% of its expenses—the smallest percentage of any state. Meanwhile, Alaska collected 130.5%, yielding the largest surplus. The typical state’s revenue totaled 102.7% of its annual bills over the past 15 years.
Zooming out from a narrow focus on annual or biennial budgets—which may mask deficits as they allow for shifting the timing of when states receive cash or pay off bills to reach a balance—offers a big-picture look at whether state governments have lived within their means, or whether higher revenue or lower expenses may be necessary to bring a state into fiscal balance.
Author(s): Joanna Biernacka-Lievestro, Alexandre Fall
An analysis by Pew Charitable Trusts shows that Illinois is one of only two states in the country with total tax revenue shortfalls exceeding 5% of total expenses, and the only ones with annual deficits in each of the past 15 years. The other state is New Jersey.
Pew state fiscal health manager Joanna Biernacka-Lievestro said Illinois is in select company.
“Nine states failed to collect enough revenue to cover their long-term expenses over the 15 years ending in fiscal 2020,” Biernacka-Lievestro said. “Secondly, Illinois was one of two states that struggled the most.”
After New Jersey, Illinois had the largest deficit with aggregate revenue able to cover only 93.9% of aggregate expenses. In comparison, Indiana and Iowa were both close to 104%. Alaska collected 103.5%, yielding the largest surplus.
The Charitable Corporation was established in London in 1707 with the noble mission of providing “relief of the industrious poor by assisting them with small sums at legal interest.”
Essentially, it sought to provide low-interest loans to poor tradesmen, shielding them from predatory pawnbrokers who charged as much as 30% interest. The corporation made loans available at the rate of 5% in return for a pledge of property for security.
The Charitable Corporation was modeled on Monti di Pietà, a charitable institution of credit established in Catholic countries during the Renaissance era to combat usury, or high rates of interest.
Unlike the Monti di Pietà, however, the British version – despite its name – wasn’t a nonprofit. Instead, it was a business venture. The enterprise was funded by offering shares to investors who, in return, would make money while doing good. Under its original mission, it was like an 18th century version of today’s socially responsible investing, or “sustainable investment funds.”
There are several key characteristics that stand out in the collapses of both the Charitable Corporation and FTX. Both companies were offering something new or venturing into a new sector. In the former’s case, it was microloans. In FTX’s case, it was cryptocurrency.
Meanwhile, the management of both ventures was centralized in the hands of just a few people. The Charitable Corporation got into trouble when it reduced its directors from 12 to five and when it consolidated most of its loan business in the hands of one employee – namely, Thomson. FTX’s example is even more extreme, with founder Sam Bankman-Fried calling all the shots.
Not to worry: the Biden administration is coming to the rescue. The town of Palm Beach Gardens is using $2 million in federal money from President Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to build a $16 million public course, with a two-story clubhouse and driving range that should help at least partially slake the new thirst for golf. The city’s project, one of several golf-course investments that the Biden legislation is funding, is entirely within the spirit of the “rescue” act, which devotes only about 9 percent of its money to public-health causes that fight the virus but allocates hundreds of billions of dollars to local governments and schools for the vague task of providing “support for a recovery” and funding “investments in infrastructure.” As one wag at a South Florida newspaper observed, “If this keeps up much longer, Palm Beach Gardens may get an equestrian center from it.”
Showering local governments with unprecedented federal dollars, ARPA is the last of several emergency packages, totaling more than $5 trillion, to come from Washington in response to the pandemic. Though termed a “rescue bill” to enhance its appeal, the Biden legislation was more of a stimulus, designed to stoke spending by the country’s tens of thousands of local governments to boost economic activity. Signed by the president in March 2021, even as the economy was recovering and tax revenues were rebounding far faster than most analysts had predicted, ARPA allows for wide discretion in how to spend “Biden Bucks.”
The federal money has turned pols into the proverbial kids in the candy shop. They’re using it to restart parades, fund street performers, upgrade high school weight rooms and sports fields, and build bike paths, golf courses, pickleball courts, and other “essential” infrastructure. Billions of dollars are going to illegal aliens. Cities are testing efforts to give low-income residents guaranteed money that supporters say will end poverty. Municipalities are moving to construct their own broadband networks, in competition with the private sector. It’s all part of a program whipped up so quickly that it included billions of dollars for municipal governments that don’t even exist.
To many local officials, ARPA’s allocations seem like free money. But it comes at a cost to the United States. The act’s funds haven’t been generated by taxes or other federal revenues. Instead, they’re financed by “printing” new money (something done mostly via electronic keystrokes these days)—massively expanding the dollars in circulation and thus intensifying our current inflation, the highest in decades. Aside from the pain that the upward spiral of costs is causing ordinary Americans, inflation is also raising the price that governments pay for essential services like police and fire protection, even as politicians rush to spend their one-time Biden Bucks on ephemeral projects and untested programs. With a Federal Reserve–induced recession, sparked by high interest rates to curb inflation, now a distinct possibility, Biden Bucks may soon be remembered as the spending blowout that preceded a local government budget bust-up.
The class is a little touchy-feely. But it’s one of many offerings from the California Department of Social Services that the agency says is necessary for attracting and retaining caregivers in a state-funded assistance program that helps 650,000 low-income people who are older or disabled age in place, usually at home. As part of the $295 million initiative, officials said, thousands of classes, both online and in-person, will begin rolling out in January, focused on dozens of topics, including dementia care, first-aid training, medication management, fall prevention, and self-care. Caregivers will be paid for the time they spend developing skills.
Whether it will help the program’s labor shortage remains to be seen. According to a 2021 state audit of the In-Home Supportive Services program, 32 out of 51 counties that responded to a survey reported a shortage of caregivers. Separately, auditors found that clients waited an average of 72 days to be approved for the program, although the department said most application delays were due to missing information from the applicants.
The in-home assistance program, which has been around for nearly 50 years, is plagued by high turnover. About 1 in 3 caregivers leave the program each year, according to University of California-Davis researcher Heather Young, who worked on a 2019 government report on California’s health care workforce needs.
Lynn Parramore: Social Security has been America’s most successful retirement program for the last 87 years. Yet the public is constantly hearing that the program is going to “run out of money.” Is that actually true? Can Social Security actually go bankrupt?
Eric Laursen: No, and the word bankrupt is just about a complete misnomer when it comes to Social Security. The program is funded by contributions that participants and their employers make through their paychecks. It’s also backed by a Trust Fund which is accumulated over time.
That Trust Fund is dwindling now, and it’s expected to run out of money in the early 2030s. But Social Security can’t actually go bankrupt. If the situation arises where there is not enough money either in the Trust Fund or coming through from contributions to fund current benefits, then those benefits can’t be paid, perhaps as much as 25%. In that case, Congress would be faced with a choice to either cut benefits or increase contributions.
There’s a lot of pressure from people who want to cut Social Security to do it now rather than waiting for that point in the future, because at that point, Congress would be under a lot of pressure to make good on what people have been promised.
LP: What would you do to make sure that Social Security is protected and remains strong? Does it need to be modernized in some ways to keep it effective?
EL: There are a number of things that can be done. One is to raise the cap. More of income beyond the $147,000 threshold needs to be taxed for payroll tax purposes. Another thing that can be done is passing the Social Security Expansion Act that Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and others have backed. There is a special minimum benefit for Social Security recipients that’s aimed at keeping people who have really low incomes during their lifetimes above the poverty level, and that needs to be improved. That’s not asking a lot. It should be done.
You can also change the rules for wealthy people. One of the differences between now and 40 years ago is that people in the really high income brackets get much more of their income from investments, stock options, and other business holdings than they do from salaries and wages. We need to figure out a formula for applying the payroll tax to at least some of that investment income – like capital gains and so forth. Definitely, the CPI-E needs to be instituted. There should be an expansion of benefits across the board for Social Security benefits. We need the CPI-E at a base level that’s more reasonable. Another thing I think is important: one of the changes that happened in ’83 that was really bad was that Social Security survivor benefits were ended for children of deceased or disabled workers above the age of 18. It used to be that you could get those until 22 and they would help you to go to college. That was abolished. It would be a very good thing if that could be reinstated so that more people have some level of security to pursue higher education.
Author(s): Lynn Parramore
Publication Date: 20 Dec 2022
Publication Site: Institute for New Economic Thinking
Date and Time of upcoming event: 3:00 PM ET Tuesday, January 24, 2023 (60 Minutes)
The U.S. Congress passed legislation on December 15, 2022 that includes requirements for the Securities and Exchange Commission to adopt data standards related to municipal securities. The Financial Data Transparency Act (FDTA) aims to improve transparency in government reporting, while minimizing disruptive changes and requiring no new disclosures. The University of Michigan’s Center for Local State and Urban Policy (CLOSUP) has partnered with XBRL US to develop open, nonproprietary financial data standards that represent government financial reporting which could be freely leveraged to support the FDTA. The Annual Comprehensive Financial Reporting (ACFR) Taxonomy today represents general purpose governments, as well as some special districts, and can be expanded upon to address all types of governments that issue debt securities. CLOSUP has also conducted pilots with local entities including the City of Flint.
Attend this 60-minute session to explore government data standards, find out how governments can create their own machine-readable financial statements, and discover what impact this legislation could have on government entities. Most importantly, discover how machine-readable data standards can benefit state and local government entities by reducing costs and increasing access to time-sensitive information for policy making.
Marc Joffe, Public Policy Analyst, Public Sector Credit
Stephanie Leiser, Fiscal Health Project Lead, Center for Local, State and Urban Policy (CLOSUP), University of Michigan’s Ford School of Public Policy
Campbell Pryde, President and CEO, XBRL US
Robert Widigan, Chief Financial Officer, City of Flint