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Lessons for public pensions from Utah's move to pension choice

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  • CLARK, ROBERT L.
  • HANSON, EMMA
  • MITCHELL, OLIVIA S.

Abstract

We explore what happened when the state of Utah moved away from its traditional defined benefit pension. In its place, it offered new hires a choice between a conventional defined contribution plan and a hybrid plan option, where the latter has both a guaranteed benefit component and a defined contribution plan where employees bear investment risk. We show that around 60 percent of new hires failed to make any active choice and, as a result, were automatically defaulted into the hybrid plan. Slightly more than half of those who made an active choice elected the hybrid plan. Post-reform, employees who failed to actively elect a primary retirement plan were also far less likely to enroll in a supplemental retirement account, compared to new hires who actively selected a plan. We also find that employees hired following the reform were more likely to leave public employment, resulting in higher separation rates. This could reflect a reduction in the desirability of public employment under the new pension design and an improving economic climate in the state. Our results imply that public pension reformers must consider employee responses in addition to potential cost savings, when developing and enacting major pension plan changes.
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Suggested Citation

  • Clark, Robert L. & Hanson, Emma & Mitchell, Olivia S., 2016. "Lessons for public pensions from Utah's move to pension choice," Journal of Pension Economics and Finance, Cambridge University Press, vol. 15(03), pages 285-310, July.
  • Handle: RePEc:cup:jpenef:v:15:y:2016:i:03:p:285-310_00
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Moshe A. Milevsky & S. David Promislow, 2004. "Florida's Pension Election: From DB to DC and Back," Journal of Risk & Insurance, The American Risk and Insurance Association, vol. 71(3), pages 381-404, September.
    2. Glaeser, Edward L. & Ponzetto, Giacomo A.M., 2014. "Shrouded costs of government: The political economy of state and local public pensions," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 116(C), pages 89-105.
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    4. Annamaria Lusardi & Olivia S. Mitchell, 2014. "The Economic Importance of Financial Literacy: Theory and Evidence," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 52(1), pages 5-44, March.
    5. Chalmers, John & Johnson, Woodrow T. & Reuter, Jonathan, 2014. "The effect of pension design on employer costs and employee retirement choices: Evidence from Oregon," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 116(C), pages 17-34.
    6. Richard W. Evans & Kerk L. Phillips, 2012. "Simulating Utah State Pension Reform," BYU Macroeconomics and Computational Laboratory Working Paper Series 2012-01, Brigham Young University, Department of Economics, BYU Macroeconomics and Computational Laboratory.
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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • H55 - Public Economics - - National Government Expenditures and Related Policies - - - Social Security and Public Pensions
    • H75 - Public Economics - - State and Local Government; Intergovernmental Relations - - - State and Local Government: Health, Education, and Welfare
    • J26 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Retirement; Retirement Policies
    • J38 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Wages, Compensation, and Labor Costs - - - Public Policy

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