How much will the underfunded pension benefits of government employees cost taxpayers? The answer is usually given in trillions of dollars, and the implications of such figures are difficult for most people to comprehend. These calculations also generally reflect only legacy liabilities — what would be owed if pensions were frozen today. Yet with each passing day, the problem grows as states fail to set aside sufficient funds to cover the benefits public employees are earning.
In a recent paper, we bring the problem closer to home. We studied how much additional money would have to be devoted annually to state and local pension systems to achieve full funding in 30 years, a standard period over which governments target fully funded pensions. Or, to put a finer point on it, we researched: How much will your taxes have to increase?
We found that, on average, a tax increase of $1,385 per U.S. household per year would be required, starting immediately and growing with the size of the public sector. An alternative would be public-sector budget cuts of a similar magnitude, or a combination of tax increases and cuts adding up to this amount.