There is as much as a $4 trillion gap between what states have promised their public workers in retirement pensions and what they’ve actually set aside and invested in order to pay for them.
There are enough reasons this has happened to count as a survey question on the most boring episode of Family Feud ever—states and cities didn’t set aside enough money, employees didn’t contribute enough, and guaranteed investment returns are overestimated, among many other problems.
But what does the average American think about the pension crisis and what would they do? A small number of communities like Phoenix, Arizona, and San Jose, California, have put pension reform in the voters’ hands, with mixed results. In our latest Reason-Rupe poll, we decided to focus almost entirely on the pension crisis, asking Americans how seriously they view the problem and what sort of trade-offs they would accept to fix it.
Yes, Americans Are Concerned About the Pension Crisis
Pension worriers will be pleased to hear that Americans are at least paying attention. A full 72 percent of those polled are either “very” or “somewhat” concerned about state and local governments’ ability to fund the pensions they’ve promised to public employees. A similar number (74 percent) are concerned that state or local governments will raise taxes in the future in order to meet these pension obligations. When asked to prioritize dealing with the pension crisis, 35 percent said pension reform should be a top priority, while 41 percent said pension reform should be an important but lower priority.