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"The End of Pensions"

This long, detailed article by The New York Times is the best I've seen at explaining the state of defined benefit plans, both private and public, and how we got to be in the position we're in now (in brief, we're screwed, and it's likely to get worse).

The [Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation] is now $23 billion in the red -- a deficit that is expected to grow, significantly, as more companies go under. The balance sheet for the end of September will very likely show a deficit of more than $30 billion. If nothing is done to fix the system, the Congressional Budget Office forecasts, the deficit will mushroom to more than $100 billion within two decades. This liability will almost certainly fall back on the taxpayers, since the alternative to a bailout -- letting the pension agency fail --- would force aging former auto workers and other retirees onto the street.

As bad as that sounds, the problem of state and local government pensions is even worse. Public pensions, which are paid by taxpayers and thus enjoy an implicit form of insurance, are underfunded by a total of at least $300 billion and arguably much more...

According to Barclay's Global Investors, if you use realistic assumptions, the total underfunding in all public plans is on the order of $460 billion. If this figure is even close to true, future taxpayers will be hopelessly in hock to the police, firefighters and teachers of the past.


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