Tag Archives: Public Employees

Defined Benefit Pension Plans Boost National Economy

Defined benefit pension plans, including NYSLRS, provide retirement security for millions of Americans. Here in New York, NYSLRS pays out more than $10 billion in benefits each year to nearly 400,000 New York State residents. Much of that money is spent at home, contributing to local economies and supporting jobs.

What’s happening here is mirrored across the country. In 2018, defined benefit pension plans paid $578.7 billion to 23.8 million retired Americans, and those payments had a significant impact on the nation’s economy according to a recent study by the National Institute on Retirement Security (NIRS).

What Is a Defined Benefit Pension Plan?

A defined benefit pension plan provides a pension that is based on a preset formula that takes into account salary and years of service. Unlike a 401(k)-style retirement plan (also known as defined contribution plan), it is not based on how much you or your employer contribute to your retirement account. A defined benefit plan provides a fixed monthly payment at retirement and is usually a lifetime benefit.

With a defined contribution plan, the amount of money the employee has accumulated at retirement depends on the investment returns of their individual account. A market downturn, especially near retirement, can affect the value of their benefit. With a defined benefit plan, market risk is shared, so a downturn doesn’t affect the benefit.

Most importantly, defined benefit pension recipients don’t have to worry about their money running out during their retirement years.

economic impact of defined benefit pension plans

Who Gets Defined Benefits?

Defined benefit pension plans were once much more common in the United States. Today, defined benefit plans are more commonly offered by public employers, though about 16 percent of full-time private sector employees had access to a define benefit plan in 2018.

Who received these benefits? According to the NIRS study:

  • $308.7 billion was paid to 11 million state and local government retirees and beneficiaries;
  • $105.9 billion was paid to 2.6 million federal retirees and beneficiaries; and
  • $164.1 billion was paid to 10.1 million private sector retirees and beneficiaries.

Employers Benefit from Defined Benefit Plans

Not surprisingly, the financial security provided by defined benefit plans has proved popular among workers. In 2019, the NIRS surveyed 1,100 public employees about their benefits. Most said retirement benefits are good tools for recruiting and retaining workers, and 86 percent said their retirement benefits are a major reason they stick with their jobs.

National Economic Benefits of Defined Benefit Plans

The $578.7 billion in pension payments generated spending that supported 6.9 million American jobs with paychecks totaling $394.2 billion, the study estimated. But the economic benefit didn’t stop there. This is because of what economists call the multiplier effect, the measure of the true impact of each dollar spent as it works its way through the economy.  

The study found that each pension dollar paid had a $2.19 multiplier effect, which resulted in nearly $1.3 trillion in economic output. Real estate, food service, healthcare, and wholesale and retail trade were the sectors most impacted.

The study also noted that defined benefit pension payments have a stabilizing effect on local economies. Because they have a steady source of income, retirees with a defined benefit plan are less likely than retirees with defined contributions to curtail spending during economic downturns.

“These plans are a cost effective way to provide secure lifetime income for retired Americans and their beneficiaries after a lifetime of work. Moreover,” the study concluded, “DB pension plans generate economic benefits that reach well beyond those who earned benefits during their working years.”

Enhanced Death Benefit for Survivors of COVID-19 Victims

COVID-19 has resulted in tens of thousands of deaths across New York State. Sadly, the pandemic’s victims include NYSLRS members who carried out their essential duties despite personal risk.

The families of these selfless members can take some comfort in knowing that they may be eligible for enhanced death benefits. A new law provides certain beneficiaries of public employees who contract COVID-19 on the job and die from COVID-19 with an accidental death benefit.

death benefit for survivors of COVID-19 victims

Most NYSLRS members are eligible for a death benefit if they die while in service; this “ordinary death benefit” provides a member’s designated beneficiary or beneficiaries a single, lump sum payment, worth up to three years’ salary. Alternatively, an “accidental death benefit” may be available to certain beneficiaries if the member’s death is a result of an on-the-job accident. The NYSLRS accidental death benefit is a pension paid to beneficiaries that are defined in statute, first to a surviving spouse, if no spouse to dependent children, then to dependent parent(s).

Generally, the accidental death benefit is equal to 50 percent of the member’s final average salary or last year’s salary depending on the retirement plan the member is enrolled in. You can find your retirement plan information on our Publications page. In addition to the accidental death benefit, a special accidental death benefit may also be payable to a member of the New York State and Local Police and Fire Retirement System.

“This new law is an important step toward protecting public workers who are on the front lines fighting the coronavirus and helping their communities,” said New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli. “If something happens to them, they deserve their retirement benefits and the peace of mind that their families are provided for.”  

Eligibility Requirements

A NYSLRS member’s statutory beneficiary would be eligible for the accidental death benefit if the member:

  • Worked at either their normal workplace or another assigned workplace, not their residence, as directed by their employer, on or after March 1, 2020;
  • Contracted COVID-19 within 45 days of the last day that the member reported for work;
  • Died on or before December 31, 2022; and
  • Died from COVID-19 or COVID-19 caused or contributed to their death.

The COVID-19 benefit also applies to members who were working as of March 1 but retired prior to July 1, 2020. If the retiree met the eligibility requirements, contracted COVID at work or within 45 days of last reporting to work, and died after retiring, but on or before December 31, 2020, their statutory beneficiary has the option of converting the service retirement benefit or disability retirement benefit to an accidental death benefit.

The COVID-19 benefit is available for all NYSLRS members (Employees’ Retirement System as well as Police and Fire Retirement System members), regardless of job title, or tier.

How to Claim the Benefit

When someone calls NYSLRS to report a death, they should let us know it was COVID-related. We’ll also ask for an original death certificate. We will then reach out to the beneficiary to assist them in claiming the benefit. For the COVID-19 death benefit, NYSLRS will confirm with the employer the dates that the member reported to work and request the required documentation showing COVID-19 as the cause of death. The COVID-19 death benefit will be reduced by any ordinary death benefits paid out to a beneficiary by NYSLRS.

Celebrating 100 Years of NYSLRS

NYSLRS 100

On January 3, 1921, NYSLRS began helping New York’s public employees achieve financial security in retirement. Now – 100 years later – we continue to fulfill that promise.

NYSLRS’ Origins

Governor Alfred Smith
In 1920, Governor Al Smith signed legislation establishing the New York State Employees’ Retirement System.

In 1920, the State Commission on Pensions presented Governor Al Smith a report they’d been working on for two years. The report showed that though there were already pension plans covering 8,300 banking department employees, teachers, State hospital workers, Supreme Court and other certain judiciary employees and prison employees, 10,175 State employees were not covered. To help ensure the financial security of public employees during their retirement years, the Commission recommended that a system be established to pay benefits to State employees – and the Commission wanted a system that would always have enough money on hand to pay benefits.

On May 11, 1920, Governor Smith signed legislation creating the New York State Employees’ Retirement System. By June 30 1921, 43 retirees were drawing pensions. The total amount of their annual pensions was $17,420.16. The first disability pension benefit of $256 per year was also paid.

Still Fulfilling Our Promise After 100 Years

Today, there are more than one million members, retirees and beneficiaries in our system, and NYSLRS is one of the strongest and best funded retirement systems in the country. Last fiscal year, NYSLRS paid out $13.25 billion in retirement and death benefits.

Members of the Employees' Retirement System, 1921
Members of the Employees’ Retirement System gather on the steps of the State Education Department building in Albany, NY in 1921.

Our core mission for the last 100 years has been to provide our retirees with a secure pension through prudent asset management. This has been our promise since 1921 and will continue far into the future.

Sources: Report of the New York State Commission on Pensions, March 30, 1920; Chapter 741 of the Laws of 1920; and Report of the Actuary on the First Valuation of the Assets and Liabilities of the New York State Retirement System as of June 30, 1921.

Public Employees Value Their Retirement Benefits

A recent survey gauged how important retirement benefits are to state and local government workers, and the crucial role that pensions and other benefits play in recruiting and retaining workers.

In 2015, more than 19 million Americans worked for state or local governments, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. Retirement benefits, including defined benefit and defined contribution plans, were available to most of those workers.

Last year, the National Institute on Retirement Security commissioned a survey of more than 1,100 public sector employees. Teachers, police officers, firefighters and other public workers were asked questions on a variety of work-related subjects, from job satisfaction to health care benefits. The majority of public workers surveyed (86 percent) cited retirement benefits as a major reason they stay in their jobs.

retirement benefits

Defined Benefit vs. Defined Contribution

An overwhelming number (94 percent) of government employees surveyed said pensions help attract and retain workers. The same percentage had a favorable view of defined benefit pension plans.

As a NYSLRS member, you are part of a defined benefit plan, also known as a traditional pension plan. Your pension is a lifetime benefit based on years of service and earnings. It is not based on your individual contributions to the Retirement System.

With defined contributions plans, such as 401(k)-style retirement savings plans, the employer, employee or both make contributions to an individual retirement account. The money in the account is invested, and the amount the employee has at retirement is based on investment returns. A market downturn can affect the value of the benefit and employees risk outliving their money.

When Retirement Benefits Get Reduced

In an effort to cut costs, some state and local governments have replaced defined benefit plans with defined contribution plans. But these moves have had unexpected consequences.

The Institute’s study cites the experience of Palm Beach, Florida, which gutted its defined benefit plan. The town soon realized that it was spending large sums to recruit and train new police officers, only to see them move to nearby communities with better benefits. The town reconsidered and improved its pension plan.

Then there’s the case of West Virginia, where officials found that switching to a defined contribution plan for teachers actually cost more money. Because the traditional pension plan stopped receiving contributions from new teachers and their employers, it became harder for the state to meet its pension obligations. After 14 years, the state went back to offering a defined benefit plan to all new teachers. Teachers already in the 401(k)-style plan were allowed to switch to the traditional plan, and 79 percent made the switch. State officials project that the return to a defined benefit system will save them $1.2 billion in the first 30 years.

Meanwhile, Alaska is still struggling with its decision to drop its defined benefit plan. A report by the Alaska Department of Public Safety cited “the inability to provide a defined benefits retirement system” as a factor in the “critically low staffing levels” for Alaska state troopers.

Start Saving for Retirement Now

More than 40 percent of Millennials are not saving for retirement at all, according to one recent study.

If you’re in your 20s or 30s and have nothing saved for retirement, now is a good time to get started. Even if you can’t save much, starting early gives your money time to grow. And getting started is probably easier than you think.

A simple savings plan

Let’s say you put $10 per week into a retirement account. That’s just $2 per workday. Let’s also say you invest your savings in a stock fund, which yields an average annual return of 7 percent, compounded annually. (That’s actually pretty conservative based on past market performance.) After 30 years, you’d have $50,000. Not bad for a couple bucks a day.

Of course, you’ll want to save more over the course of your career, but the important thing is getting started early. That’s because your future investment returns will be based not just on the money you invest, but on the returns on those investments as well.

Deferred Compensation – an easy way to save

For public employees, New York State Deferred Compensation Plan is a good place to start.

Deferred Comp is a 457(b) retirement plan created for New York State employees and employees of participating agencies. (It is not affiliated with NYSLRS.) If you are a NYSLRS member but do not work for New York State, check with your employer to see if you are eligible.

Deferred Comp makes withdrawals directly from your paycheck, so once you sign up, you don’t even have to think about it. They also offer packaged investment plans, so you don’t have to be a financial wizard to participate, or you can create a customized investment plan.

The important thing is to get started. Then watch your money grow.

This is Public Service Recognition Week

This week we proudly celebrate the more than 600,000 members and 400,000 retirees of The New York State and Local Retirement System (NYSLRS) for their service to the people of New York State.

A Brief History of Public Service Recognition Week

Public Service Recognition Week (PSRW) was created in 1985 to honor the men and women who serve our nation as federal, state, county and local government employees. Congress officially designated the first week of May as PSRW. This year, it is being celebrated May 3 through May 9.

PSRW publicly honors all the men and women who dedicate their careers – and sometimes their lives – to keep others safe and provide for the common needs of our society. These individuals strive to help make life better in our communities.

The Public Servants of NYSLRS

NYSLRS is a public retirement system full of stories about State workers and municipal employees finding value and meaning in the work they do, especially when they help another New Yorker. These are stories you may not read or hear about, because to some public employees, they’re just doing their job.

Whether they are picking up our garbage, educating our children, or cleaning our roads during snowstorms, NYSLRS members deliver the critical resources and services many New Yorkers depend on. Likewise, many NYSLRS members and retirees also give back to our state by serving their communities as volunteers and supporters of charitable causes.

Comptroller DiNapoli’s Faith in Public Service

New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli is the administrator of NYSLRS and trustee of the Common Retirement Fund. His public service career began when he was elected as a trustee to the Mineola Board of Education at the age of 18, making him the first 18-year-old in New York State to hold public office. Comptroller DiNapoli is understandably proud about the career path he has chosen and he often speaks about the contributions that New York’s public employees make; not just as engaged citizens, but as individuals who bring value to the communities where they live: