By Chris Adams

Greg Mennis of The Pew Charitable Trusts studies what he jokes are the “three most boring words in the English language”: unfunded pension liabilities.

But for state governments and their workers and retirees, those words are hugely important.

Mennis, who heads Pew’s public sector retirement systems division, discussed with National Press Foundation fellows the varied performance of state governments and how they manage their pension plans. He provided an overview of the pickle many states are in – one that stems from their unwillingness to make the dramatic changes necessary to boost the assets necessary to cover benefits they have promised retirees.

The pension story does include efforts in several states to make reforms. Overall, he said:

  • 48 states have implemented some kind of reform between 2009 and 2015;
  • Many of those reforms changed plan provisions for new workers, but kept intact the structure of the plans;
  • 15 states reduced the cost-of-living adjustments for retired employees, while eight reduced those for active employees;
  • 36 increased employee contributions for either current or new members;
  • And nine states passed reforms that changed the mandatory benefit design for new employees.

He offered several Pew resources: