California’s Pension Funding Crisis Just Got Worse

July 19, 2016, 7:48 PM UTC
CA's Gov't Pension Fund To Report Loss Of One Quarter Of Its Holdings
SACRAMENTO, CA - JULY 21: A sign stands in front of California Public Employees' Retirement System building July 21, 2009 in Sacramento, California. CalPERS, the state's public employees retirement fund, reported a loss of 23.4%, its largest annual loss. (Photo by Max Whittaker/Getty Images)
Photogaph by Max Whittaker—Getty Images

You can add a few more names to the list of folks who aren’t exactly enjoying the current bull market: the money managers at Calpers, or the California Public Employees Retirement System.

Calpers announced on Monday that it returned just 0.61% during the fiscal year that ended June 30th, falling well short of it’s goal of a 7.5%, meaning that the fund will lose ground in its efforts to earn enough to make good on its promises to retirees. Right now, the fund has 68 cents in assets for every dollar in liabilities, assuming that it continues to earn returns of 7.5% per year, though it has failed to do that for two years in a row.

The situation at Calpers underscores a problem of underfunding faced by many state pension funds across the country. A combination of an aging population, tight state budgets, and an unwillingness on the part of politicians to force public sector unions or taxpayers to contribute more to these pension funds has created a growing crisis of underfunded pensions that is getting worse.

According to a recent study by the Hoover Institution, even if state pension systems were to assume an annual return of 7.6%—an increasingly unrealistic target in this age of low interest rates—they would still come up roughly $1.2 trillion of what has been promised to retirees across more than 560 state and local pension system in the United States. “What is in fact going on is that the governments are borrowing from workers and promising to repay that debt when they retire,” the report reads. “The accounting standards allow the bulk of this debt to go unreported due to the assumption of high rates of return.”

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