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A Role for Defined Contribution Plans in the Public Sector

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Publication Date: April 2011

Publisher(s): Center for Retirement Research at Boston College

Author(s): Alicia H. Munnell; Jean-Pierre Aubry; Joshua Hurwitz; Laura Quinby

Series:

Special Collection:

Topic: Economics (Economic conditions)
Economics (Economic policy, planning, and development)
Economics (Economic research)
Economics (Infrastructure)

Keywords: state and local pensions

Type: Report

Coverage: United States

Abstract:

In the wake of the financial crisis, policymakers have been talking about shifting from defined benefit plans to defined contribution plans in the public sector. Three states – Georgia, Michigan, and Utah – have taken action, joining the 10 states that had introduced some form of defined contribution plans before 2008. Interestingly, these new plans are “hybrids” that combine elements of both defined benefit plans and defined contribution plans. Such an approach spreads the risks associated with the provision of retirement income between the employer and the employee. This brief provides an update on defined contribution initiatives in the public sector and then discusses whether the hybrids that have been introduced are the best way to combine the two plan types.

The brief proceeds as follows. The first section discusses the issues involved with moving from a defined benefit plan to a defined contribution
arrangement. The second section recaps the role that defined contribution plans played in the public sector before the financial crisis. The third section describes the new hybrid plans recently adopted in Georgia,
Michigan, and Utah. And the fourth section suggests that a better type of hybrid might be one where defined contribution plans are “stacked” on the state’s defined benefit plan rather than placed alongside of it. The fifth section concludes that defined contribution plans have a role in the public sector, but that role is supplementing, not replacing, defined benefit plans.