Profitable Prudence: The Case for Public Employer Defined Benefit Plans

Gary Anderson and Keith Brainard

Abstract —Defined benefit plans remain the predominant form of retirement benefit for employees of state and local governments in the United States, which employ more than 10 percent of the nation’s workforce. This chapter describes the divergence between pensions in private industry, where the focus has shifted sharply toward defined contribution plans, and in the public sector, where defined benefit plans continue to dominate. One reason is that public employers have the ongoing responsibility of attracting and retaining a large workforce whose diversity is unmatched in private industry. We also offer an economic analysis of public plans, focusing on the value-added to state economies from investment returns which are often superior to those generated by defined contribution plans.