Monday, January 9, 2023

PERS Goes Mud-Ridin' in 2022

PERS went mud-riding yet again in 2022 as its financial picture continued to worsen thanks to seesaw between retirees and active employees that becomes more unbalanced every year.  Although the markets killed in 2022, investment gains in 2021 kept the bad news from being worse.  

 A demon afflicts PERS and that demon has a name: Deficit, as in the ever-growing deficit between contributions and benefits payments.  The deficit was only $642 million a decade ago but retiree growth and fewer employees paying into the system fueled the its growth until it reached $1.4 billion in 2022.  The difference between contributions and payments means PERS must first use precious investment income or portfolio assets to pay retirees.   The chart below spells out the problem.

The chief cause of the deficit is unchecked retiree growth.  PERS added 2,303 retirees to the rolls in 2022.  Such growth may seem a small number.  However, the retiree population increased a full third in ten years to its current 114,462.  Unfortunately for PERS, the employee population shrank as retiree population grew.  There were 144,416  active members in 2022, 17,328 fewer employees than in 2013. Thus the ratio of employees/retirees shrank from 1.8 in 2013 to only 1.3 in 2022.  (p.12 of report posted below.)   That's a bunch of financial mumbo-jumbo. What does it mean in plain English? It means Mississippi is gaining more retired public employees while losing much-needed working employees.  As the imbalance worsens, the deficit continues to grow as it gobbles up more PERS assets every year.

PERS suffered a bad investing year the average of its investments consistently beat the assumed rate of return of 7.55%.  2022 was a brutal year for PERS as its investments suffered a rate of return of -8.6%.  However, 2021 saved the day as PERS enjoyed a 33% rate of return that year.  The PERS actuaries smooth investment gains and losses over a five year period so PERS isn't affected by large swings in the market.  

PERS recognized close to $2 billion of 2021 investment income in 2022 and only 20% of its 2022 investment losses or $2.8 billion, thus papering over the dismal market performance.  The smoothing allowed the assets to slightly grow on an actuarial basis (although they suffered a beating if one only considered their actual market value, falling from $35 billion to $30 billion.). 




 Although PERS lowered the assumed rate of return to 7.55% several years ago.  PERS does not necessarily have an investment problem as the five-year (8.3%) and ten-year (9.45%) averages beast the assumed rate of returns.  Unfortunately, the growing deficit and retiree population means it is highly unlikely PERS can invest its way back to prosperity.  The unfunded assumed actuarial liabilities reached a record $21 billion in 2022, up $1.6 billion from the record $19.4 billion in 2021.  

The use of 2021 investment income and non-recognition of 80% of 2022 investment losses meant the funding level remained unchanged at 61.3%.  If the market value method is used without smoothing the gains and losses, the PERS funding level would only be 57% after reaching 70% in 2021. 


 The chart shows that despite an average rate of return of over 9% for the last decade, the PERS funding level barely budged during that term (Hence the use of "mud-ridin' in the headline.).   PERS had a similar experience ten years ago.  The portfolio enjoyed investment returns of 14% and 25% but the funding level actually fell thanks to retiree growth and other variables. 

The inability of the PERS portfolio to keep up with the mushrooming obligations are why PERS consultant Cavanaugh McDonald told the Board of of Trustees at the December meeting that PERS could not invest its way out of its current dilemma.  Cavanaugh said  the funding level would fall to only 48% in 25 years if the Board took no action. The consultant recommended increasing the employer contribution rate to 22.4%, the fourth employer increase in ten years and the largest one yet.  

The Board approved the rate hike.  The increase will cost the state $265 million and local governments $75 million.  


Shares of employee population (2022 proportion) (2012 population) (2012 proportion)

State agencies: 24,66 (17%) (32,618)  (20%)

IHL: 16,744 (11%) (11%)

Public Schools: 60,787 (42%) ( 64,252) (40%)

Jucos: 5,761 (4%) (4%)

Counties: 14,483 (10%) (9%)

Cities: 15,404 (11%) (11%)

Total Employee Population: 144,416  (2012 Population: 161,744)


Employer Contribution Rates

2011: 12%
2012: 14.26%
2014: 15.75%
2019: 17.4%

2022: 22.4% (Approved by Board, Not yet Funded by Legislature) 

Annual Rate of Return since 2000

2000: 8.4%
2001: -7.1%
2002: -6.6%
2003: 3.5%
2004: 14.6%
2005: 9.8%
2006: 10.7%
2007: 18.9%
2008: -8.2%
2009: -19.4%
2010: 14.1%
2011: 25%
2012: 0.6%
2013: 13.4%
2014: 18.3%
2015: 3.5%
2016: 1.16%
2017: 15%
2018: 9.2%
2019: 6.8% 

2020: 3%

2021: 32.7% 

2022: -8.6

Five-year average: 8.3% 

Ten-year average: 9.45%

Assumed Rate of Return: 7.55%


Anonymous said...

Meanwhile the legislature and does nothing. But of course, that is the norm.

Don Drane said...

I said (to myself) I was not going to respond to another of your frequent PERS click-baits. Either you or the person behind the curtain who writes for you said this:

"The chief cause of the deficit is unchecked retiree growth."

I have only one multi part question and then I'll leave you to your typical devices (coincidentally posted during the second week of the legislative session) so your usual followers can bitch and moan about the imaginary 13th check:

Are you or your writer suggesting somebody should 'check' retirees who make that decision...and...How exactly should retirees be 'checked' (which I assume means halt, stop or deal with)?

Anonymous said...

Hey Don Drane, put down the crack pipe

Anonymous said...

Pension plans died along time ago in the private sector... for this very reason. Don't know why anyone would expect differently?

Anonymous said...

"The chief cause of the deficit is unchecked retiree growth." Yep, being the most obese state in the nation those retirees definately have unchecked growth.

Anonymous said...

Where is Jimmy Hoffa when you need him. The Teamsters could fix this.

Anonymous said...

The flip side to the retiree population growth is the employee population reduction. Perhaps we should follow the Dem norm and hire more public employees. More people paying into the pot. Almost sounds like a Republican plot - grow ourselves out of the problem.

Anonymous said...

I see DOR advertising open positions at less than $30k annual salary. That's insanely low.

Most state salaries could be doubled without really being out of line.

Anonymous said...

@5:13 PM The "no-show" patrionage jobs pay less.

Anonymous said...

At the current run the employer contribution rate pushes 30% (29.63%) by 2030.

The floors are swept, the scissors have been sharpened.

The day approaches. The haircuts are inevitable.

Anonymous said...

I've been trying to reach someone at the State Dept of Revenue, all day. Have constantly gotten a recording saying all agents are busy, try again later, Click. Apparently all employees have retired, waiting on their 13th check. So sad the condition our state government is in.

Anonymous said...

The unfunded liability is only about five times last years budget surplus. Put it in perspective. This could be fixed before sending out tax rebates or eliminating income taxes. This could also be fixed without pushing this down on cities and counties.

Anonymous said...

I work at a university. Over the last ten years my pay has lagged the cpi by about 50%. One way to look at it is that what I had hoped to get as raises to keep up with inflation is being gobbled up by PERS contribution increases by my employer.

So not a terrible thing, unless you consider that my contributions are paying today’s fat thirteenth checks and then when I retire some bright upstart will suggest cutting mine. It’s todays employees that will stabbed in the back, not today’s retirees.

Anonymous said...

We we live to see the day where the employer contribution is 100%

Anonymous said...

6:14, talk to any restaurant owner or package store owner. ABC, (part of DOR) has completely gone off the cliff. Try calling ABC and inquiring where your wine order from six weeks ago is.

Anonymous said...

The days of defined benefits demise is one step closer.

Anonymous said...

I’ll take a haircut in my PERs if my department will go back and give me CPI raises since the day I was hired. Without PERS, most competent employees would have left long ago. Like a previous poster said, the DOR has open jobs paying about 50% of what new accounting graduates are getting the first day out of school.

Anonymous said...

Bait and switch. Promise employees pensions to make up for the low pay. When it comes time to pay the pensions, cry poor.

Kingfish said...

Nice to see the Drunk of Drane spewing his usual falsehoods. No one writes these for me. I write them all myself and do my own research. I took a year of accounting and another year of finance in college. Know what that means? I can actually read an income statement and a balance sheet. Of course, facts mean little to you when you start spewing trash out of your mouth. You never challenge a single fact I post, you just call names and whine whine whine because frankly, that is all you know how to do.

As for my posting when the legislature is in session, take it up with the PERS Board you claim to love so much. I used to write about this in October or November when the reports were released but your board moved it up to nearly Christmas in 2019, an election year so I don't write about it until when? The legislature is in session or almost in session. Of course, little facts like that escape your notice, not that you care.

Maybe I should approve your comment today that said there were no doctors named "Patel" in the Jackson metro area.

Don Drane said...

Apologies for assuming you had 'writers'. Assumptions aren't always correct.

Anonymous said...

The reason you get less than McDonald's level service at many state agencies is because they literally pay less than Mcdonald's. If the average employee is only contributing $3k a year to PERS and is expected to live 30 years after they retire the model is not sustainable. The state has the same problem as hospitals in the Delta: more people paying in less than they cost the system doesn't pull the balance sheet out of the red. Higher wages not only increase PERS contributions but also allow for a better class of employee.

Anonymous said...

Good work again. As I've said before, the federal government would abolish the Board of Trustees if this were a private pension and the % fell below 80%.

We are at 61%.

Anonymous said...

It wouldn't be surprising to hear colleges and universities actually forcing large swathes of their faculty into adjunct roles. Then they wouldn't have to pay the 22.4% to PERS nor healthcare for the full-timers. It's been well discussed prior to this present-day predicament.

Kingfish said...

You man enough to apologize, I'm man enough to accept the apology. Done with and forgotten.

Anonymous said...

Add 5 years to required time immediately

Cut 13th check now

Take action now

Anonymous said...

@9:08 If they did that nobody would want to work state jobs for $13 an hour and PERS would be even more underfunded. Without a pay increase PERS is about the only thing making state jobs attractive to anyone worth employing. When fast food pays $2 an hour more and offers healthcare and tuition reimbursement trying to hire college grads into state jobs for less than $35k starting is laughable.

Anonymous said...

Mississippi is a welfare state whereby most of the residents live off gubmint benefits and pay no income tax and very little property taxes. You get what you work and pay for. PERS going broke is just one example of what we have coming in Mississippi, none of it good.

W. Gordon Hamlin, Jr. said...

My little non-profit, Pro Bono Public Pensions, has proposed a comprehensive solution to various public officials, but so far no one has been willing to be the advocate. The plan would be to transition to a shared risk model along the lines pioneered in New Brunswick. This would require shared sacrifice by employees, retirees (to a lesser extent), and taxpayers. Unfortunately, the animus against any tax increases going to solve the PERS crisis is very powerful, probably enough to eliminate any serious solution. The transition could be accomplished through a collective bargaining solution authorized by the Legislature. That should solve the legal impediments posed by various court decisions.

Anonymous said...

Hello Kingfish:...9:08 - Not unlike Kingfish, you don't even have a first grader's understanding of what you call a 13th check. I won't bother to explain it since you're too dense to understand.

If Kingfish understood it, he'd post his understanding instead of celebrating the incorrect posts regarding it.

So, which is it Kingfish:

1) You fully understand it and it would upset your objective to post the reality of the misunderstood, so-called 13th check, or

2) You don't understand it and are happy as a tortoise.

97% of the morons posting to this tri-annual bullshit-thread actually believe there's a magic check in the 12th month that becomes a 13th check.

Anonymous said...

PERS Handbook

You may have elected to receive your COLA
monthly. If you did not, your COLA is paid in an annual lump sum on or about December 15.

aka 13th check

Anonymous said...

13th check or no 13th check... this thing is well on its way to dissolution.

It's inevitable.

All social "contracts" with or "rights" of citizens and/or retirees are based on the availability of the resources that subsidize that service, right, or benefit. If/When the money literally runs out, the rights/services and contract go away. Government 101.

Don't think it can't happen, because it has, and it does.

Anonymous said...

January 10, 2023 at 11:52 PM, here, everything was going along good, and you had to bring some facts up in here. The nerve of some people.

Anonymous said...

The problem with the post at 11:52 is this: Referring to a cost-of-living increase (in most cases applied monthly), whether that increase is poorly based or not, as a thirteenth check is simply emotion based.

And it gives the ignorant, slow learners, easily angered and poorly informed among us the impression that, "Hey these bastard retirees are being given an extra check on top of their retirement".

AKAs do not equal facts. Spinning an annualized cost of living as a magic windfall, aka 13th check, is fodder for the popcorn munchers.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous on January 9 @ 4:10 posted this:

"Pension plans died a long time ago in the private sector."

That is intended to cause the reader to believe they no longer exist in the private sector. If he had started that sentence with the word "Many", he would have been accurate.

The purpose of my post is not to defend pension plans and is certainly not to claim they're the going thing. My purpose is simply to refute the untrue post, quoted above.

There are many companies that still have pension plans in addition to a variety of other retirement plans. The pension plans are automatic benefits while most of the others are voluntary at such companies.

Parker-Hannifin Corporation (google it), for example, with several Mississippi facilities (one in Madison County) is a global manufacturing organization operating (I believe) in 48 countries. They offer a 401(k) plan to all employees as well as a defined benefit plan.

To claim pension (defined benefit) plans are dead is simply untrue. Not as popular as they once were? True. Need proof of their existence?

Here ya go:

Anonymous said...

I'm all for some changes to PERS. I think you should not be able to retire with 30 years and begin collecting. There should be a retirement age. I think vacation time should be limited to a year, or less towards retirement. (But,our offices should be staffed at a level that you can actually use your leave time.) Retirement should be based on an average of all years of service and not the high four. This is being abused at the highest levels every dang day. Change the whole program for those entering and with less than ten years of service BUT when you do that be prepared to pay on the front end and to have an even harder time filling positions. I can tell you as a hiring manager that PERS is not an incentive to new hires. If they understand it, they don't think it will exist for them. Most don't understand and they don't care. They want up front money which the state doesn't offer in most positions. We have had a revolving door of employees the last few years for positions. We can't meet market. We hire and then they leave within six months. Fast food is literally paying more than positions requiring a degree at our universities.

Anonymous said...

11:04 - The only places (federal, state, municipal or private sector) I know of that have a specific retirement age or who place limits on when one can retire (except a minimum number of years) are...Well, none come to mind. Can you think of any?

There is already a PERS policy that limits the number of leave days one can use toward retirement.

I agree that it's rare that any state employee thought about retirement benefits when he/she started working under PERS. I also agree that most young people who take jobs covered by PERS retirement give zero thought to retirement in 30 years. And most, at an early age, have zero understanding of the mountain of PERS regulations and could not care less about it until they're maybe into their 15th year (or more).

At age 23, one would have to be almost as lazy as a private sector employee to think, "Man, I think I'll retire here in 30 years".

The 'high four', I believe, was put in place to give more weight to the highest paid years (which could be any consecutive four year period), which takes into consideration that so many years pass between ANY pay increases. Notice that's NOT necessarily the LAST four...Those who get 'brother-in-law promotions' in order to give them a retirement parachute do need to be addressed.

I would suggest a rule that anybody whose high four resulted from a promotion within the last four-year period prior to retirement would NOT be able to use the promotion wages in the calculation. That would address favoritism and bumping people up simply to help them retire at higher pay.

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