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Report: AZ Public Pensions Boost State's Economy

The average public pension in Arizona provides a retirement income of $1,992 per month.  (gballgiggs/Adobe Stock)
The average public pension in Arizona provides a retirement income of $1,992 per month. (gballgiggs/Adobe Stock)
January 31, 2020

PHOENIX, Ariz. - Healthy pension plans for public workers help the Arizona economy, not just the retirees who get the checks, according to the latest research.

Backers of Arizona's public pension system say their defined-benefit retirement plans are doing well, although critics have claimed that some plans may be under-funded. The National Institute on Retirement Security says the benefits from these pension plans - including teachers' - generated more than $7 billion in economic activity in Arizona in 2016, the most recent figures available.

Julie Horwin, president of the Arizona Education Association-Retired, agrees they're helping to keep the economy strong.

"Pensions are not just an entitlement given to people who are older," says Horwin. "They're actually one of the chief economic engines that drives Arizona. Without those pensions, our economy would suffer a great deal."

One example of criticism was a recent op-ed by the research group Arizona Chamber Foundation. It warned that local and state governments are regularly having to increase their pension-plan contributions, suggesting this could eventually lead to solvency problems.

The National Institute on Retirement Security research breaks down the numbers further, showing that each dollar invested by Arizona taxpayers in public pensions supports more than $6 in economic activity.

Institute Executive Director Dan Doonan says defined-benefit pensions also have advantages for retirees over other forms of savings.

"What we'll see more with the 401(k), as retirees retire, it's not really clear how much you can pull out each year," says Doonan. "So, you spend your working years saving - and then you retire, and you're sort of afraid to use the money you save for retirement, because you don't know what's coming."

Doonan adds it is difficult for many workers to save enough for retirement, making a pension even more critical.

"We looked at the median savings of workers and it's basically zero dollars," says Doonan. "And even amongst those nearing retirement, it's about $88,000. That's a lot of money - but if you think in terms of a few decades in retirement, it's not a lot of income per year."

Despite claims that public pensions are draining state and local coffers, he adds only about one-quarter of contributions to Arizona pensions are from employers. The rest are from employees and the successful investment of pension funds.

Disclosure: National Public Pension Coalition contributes to our fund for reporting on Budget Policy & Priorities, Energy Policy, Environment, Peace. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Mark Richardson, Public News Service - AZ