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  • January 2015

    Issue Brief

    Importance of Supplemental Retirement Saving Plans for City and County Employees

  • 2 IMPORTANCE OF SUPPLEMENTAL RETIREMENT SAVING PLANS FOR CITY AND COUNTY EMPLOYEES

    D o local government employees with more generous defined benefit plans contribute less to supplemental retirement plans than those with less generous benefits? Yes, according to research conducted by Robert Clark and his team from North Carolina State University. In this brief, the final in a three-part series, the authors analyze employee participation in primary and supplemental retirement plans, retiree health care benefits, and Social Security in 20 large cities and counties across the country.

    Local governments rely on retirement plans and other employee benefits to help recruit, retain, and provide economic security for career employees in retirement. Many local governments offer supplemental retirement plans as a way to help employees build retirement savings; however, participation in these supplemental plans and the charac- teristics of the plans vary. Factors that contribute to higher participation rates in supple- mental plans include employer matching contributions and online enrollment.

    The authors conclude that employees consider the value of their retirement benefits when deciding whether or not to enroll in and contribute to supplemental retirement savings plans.

    The Center for State and Local Government Excellence gratefully acknowledges the financial support from ICMA-RC to undertake this research project. For more research and information about promising benefit and compensation practices, pension funding, and workforce trends and issues, visit slge.org.

    Elizabeth K. Kellar President and CEO Center for State and Local Government Excellence

  • Importance of Supplemental Retirement Saving Plans for City and

    County Employees

    By Robert L. Clark, Melinda Sandler Morrill, Matthew Anderson, Aditi Pathak*

    North Carolina State University, Poole College of Management

    Introduction Public employers rely on retirement plans and other employee benefits to help recruit, retain, and ultimately retire quality workers. While considerable informa- tion is available on the employment and compensation policies of state governments, much less information is known about the practices of city and county govern- ments. This Brief is the third in a series of Issue Briefs released by the Center for State and Local Govern- ment Excellence examining the retirement plans of 20 city and county governments across the country.1 It examines the relationships between the aspects of the supplemental plans (described in February 2014 Brief) and the primary pension plans and retiree health insurance benefits (described in November 2014 Brief) and the corresponding effect on the average worker participation rates in voluntary supplemental retirement saving plans. The analysis provides some suggestive evidence that workers covered by less generous pri- mary pensions are more likely to contribute to volun- tary supplemental retirement plans. In addition, city or county governments that give matching contributions, have multiple plans, and allow online enrollment also have higher participation rates in supplemental plans. There does not seem to be a relationship between the generosity of retiree health benefits and supplemental plan participation, although generosity parameters are difficult to standardize. This Brief begins with an overview of the generosity of retirement plans and then compares participation rates in supplemental plans across the governments.

    Generosity of Retirement Benefits Given the high incidence of defined benefit plans that automatically provide a life annuity along with the

    promise of subsidized health insurance in retirement, what is the role for voluntary supplemental retirement plans for public employees? This section provides a pic- ture of the relative generosity of retirement benefits for career workers in 20 cities and counties. In the private sector, defined contribution plans (401(k) plans) are now the norm. These plans typically require an active election by employees to enroll in the plan and workers must decide what percentage of pay to contribute to retirement saving.2 Private sector workers covered only by voluntary retirement saving plans must decide how much they need to contribute to these plans to supple- ment their Social Security benefits in order to achieve their desired standard of living in retirement. In most firms, employees do not have any other employer pro- vided pension nor are they covered by employer-pro- vided retiree health insurance. Thus, one might expect high participation rates and relatively high contribution rates by private sector employees. Some large private employers still retain their defined benefit plans and, in addition, offer their employees the opportunity to also contribute to a 401(k) plan. Still, findings from studies of retirement saving in the private sector do not neces- sarily apply directly in the public sector.

    In general, city and county governments require their full-time employees to participate in a pension plan. In contrast to private sector employer plans, pensions in the public sector tend to be defined benefit plans and most require employee contributions. These plans typically have relatively low normal retirement ages, particularly for those with long careers. The plans often provide some type of cost of living adjustment (COLA), although these are rarely guaranteed at a certain level. Another important difference between the public and private sec- tors relates to Social Security coverage. While virtually all private sector workers are covered by Social Security, about one quarter of public employees remain outside of the Social Security. Thus, these public employees must depend entirely on their employer-sponsored plans and private saving for their retirement income. Among the 20 governments in the sample, all provide a defined benefit pension plan for their employees and in 16 of

    * Clark is Zelnak Professor, Poole College of Management; Morrill is an Assistant Professor of Economics; Anderson is an undergradu- ate student and Pathak is a graduate student in the Department of Economics, North Carolina State University.

  • 4 IMPORTANCE OF SUPPLEMENTAL RETIREMENT SAVING PLANS FOR CITY AND COUNTY EMPLOYEES

    the 20 cities and counties examined, employees are also covered by Social Security.

    Table 1 provides a snapshot of retirement benefits available to employees of the cities and counties in the sample.3 The cells are shaded to indicate where one might predict lower levels of participation based on higher relative generosity of the pension benefits. Col- umn 1 indicates whether public employees are covered by Social Security. Four of the governments included in the sample remain outside of the Social Security system. Coverage by Social Security retirement and disability means that workers and employers pay a payroll tax of 6.2 percent of earnings and retirees can expect a retire- ment annuity from Social Security. Those not covered by Social Security might find they need to save more in a supplemental plan in order to provide adequate retire- ment income. Since these workers are not subject to the Social Security income tax, they might have more dispos- able income with which to save for retirement through personal savings.

    Table 1, Column 2 reports the estimated replace- ment rate for retirees at age 62 with 30 years of service (calculation is presented in Issue Brief 2). The shaded cells in Column 2 indicate whether the estimated replacement rate is at or above the median replace- ment rate (60 percent of final average salary) among the 20 city and county governments. Finally, Column 3 presents corresponding data that adds a 28 percent replacement rate from Social Security to illustrate the combined pension and Social Security benefit.4 Again, shading indicates at or above median total replacement rate (now 85.39 percent) among the 20 city and county governments.

    What level of participation and contributions can be expected from public sector workers who are already covered by mandatory retirement saving plans? Career employees at governments in the sample who are cov- ered by Social Security can expect replacement rates in excess of 80 percent of their final average salary with- out any additional savings. However, there are several

    Social Security Coverage (Yes/No)

    DB Replacement Generosity (Age 62 & 30 YOS)

    (Median 60%)

    DB Replacement Rate + Social Security (28%)

    (Median 85.39%)

    Local Government (1) (2) (3)

    Alexandria, VA Yes 73.5% 101.5%

    Austin, TX Yes 75.0% 103.0%

    Boston, MA Yes 66.0% 94.0%

    Mecklenburg County, NC Yes 55.5% 83.5%

    Cincinnati, OH No 66.0% 66.0%

    Contra Costa County, CA Yes 60.0% 88.0%

    Denver, CO Yes 75.0% 75.0%

    District of Columbia police and fire No 45.0% 73.0%

    Fairfax County, VA Yes 55.6% 83.6%

    Houston, TX firefighters Yes 80.0% 108.0%

    Los Angeles County, CA No 60.0% 60.0%

    Loudoun County, VA Yes 49.5% 77.5%

    Milwaukee, WI Yes 48.0% 76.0%

    New York City, NY Yes 51.4% 79.4%

    Philadelphia, PA Yes 62.0% 90.0%

    Phoenix, AZ Yes 63.8% 91.8%

    San Diego County, CA Yes 60.0% 88.0%

    San Francisco, CA Yes 59.2% 87.2%

    Tacoma, WA Yes 60.0% 88.0%

    Tallahassee, FL No 57.8% 57.8%

    Notes: Data are described in Issue Brief 2, Table 1. Shaded regions indi