New California pension data now available with 'Pension Tracker'

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Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

The Bill Lane Center's California Pension Tracker tool looks at California public employee pension systems, offering data on pension assets minus liabilities (unfunded liability or net pension debt). Current data reflect Fiscal Year (FY) 2019, the most recent available. For more California state and local government pension data, visit the website at pensiontracker.org.

Formerly housed at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research (SIEPR), Pension Tracker was launched by Joe Nation, a SIEPR researcher and professor of the practice of public policy. In maintaining Pension Tracker, Nation hopes to provide granular data to Californians and other Westerners so that all are aware of the dire financial conditions of public pensions, and the need for lawmakers and pension managers to take action.  

Via email, Nation offered this summary of 2019 California pension data, which just became available

  • California’s total unfunded pension liability (aka pension debt) remains at more than $1.0 trillion, measured on a market basis; this translates into $77,000 per household
    • Nearly one-half of this total is found in the CalPERS system; 27% is due to CalSTRS pension debt; the remainder is due to independent systems (typically in larger counties) and the University of California system
    • In reality, the state’s pension debt is likely even higher since Pension Tracker assumes a 3.25% discount rate for liabilities, far higher than current long-term U.S. Treasury yields
  • On an actuarial basis (i.e., using unrealistic high future rates of return and other measures used by public pensions to hide their true debt), the state’s total unfunded pension liability is $310.3 billion, roughly double the state’s annual general fund budget; this translates to nearly $24,000 per household
  • The highest pension debt per household for all agency types (cities, counties, school districts, special districts) is in the Oro Grande Elementary School District at more than $420,000 per household
    • The highest pension debt per household for cities is in Irwindale at $166,492 per household
    • The highest pension debt per household for counties is in Alpine County at $92,246 per household.

Additional information:

Pension Tracker provides detailed information about the financial status of California Public Employees' Retirement System (CalPERS) member agencies, California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS) member agencies, and independent employer agencies in California's counties, cities, and special districts.  Pension Tracker does not provide detailed information on the University of California Retirement System, UCRS.  Pension Tracker does not report information for municipal governments that do not offer Defined Benefit (DB) retirement plans. Users should assume that these municipal governments have pension debt of zero. These municipal governments often offer Defined Contribution (DC) plans that result in no financial obligation to retirees. 

The site contains roughly 4 million data points and relies on actuarial, budgetary, demographic, and other financial data from a number of sources, including CalPERS, CalSTRS, 69 independent pension systems, the State Controller's Office, the State Treasurer's Office, the California Department of Finance, and the U.S. Bureau of the Census.

Questions about Pension Tracker should be directed to Joe Nation (joenation@stanford.edu), the Project Director. Pension Tracker is supported by funding from individual donors.