For a decade now since the Great Recession, special interests have waged a false-information campaign against public pensions. While not all of the motives are clear, one thing is certain: if the over $3.8 trillion in assets managed by state and local pension funds were converted into individual 401(k)-style accounts, someone on Wall Street would stand to reap enormous financial benefit. In California alone, CalPERS, the 7th largest pension fund in the world, manages $295 billion in assets. The playbook to convert public pensions to 401(k)s has changed, but the lack of honesty in the arguments has not.
As with virtually all other investors, public pension funds suffered losses on their investments during the Great Recession. By one count, the financial markets lost 33% of their value from 2008 to 2009. Undeniably, this affected the funded status of public pension plans. According to data collected by the Center for Retirement Research, the average funded ratio of public pension plans declined from 86% in 2007 to 77% in 2009. Some states, like Idaho, suffered major drops in funded status while others, like North Carolina, saw smaller drops. Regardless, every pension plan was impacted.