Most public workers in America are enrolled in a pension plan. For those who work a full career in education, public safety, or other state and local government jobs, these pension benefits could provide them with guaranteed income for life once they retire. For those who leave early, their years of service may not be enough to qualify for meaningful benefits, or any benefit at all. These are just some examples of the benefits pension offer, but how do pensions work?

Earning a pension can be a core part of a public worker’s retirement security. Unfortunately, details about how retirement benefits for public sector work are about as clear as mud. Equable’s “Pension Basics” is a series of short articles designed to explain how pension benefits are supposed to work.

The more public employees and the taxpaying public understand about how pension benefits work, the better able everyone can be to encourage improvements to the status quo. As of last year, state and local governments were facing a $1.4 trillion shortfall in the money needed to pay out promised pension benefits to future workers. That isn’t respectful of those who have committed their lives to public service, and it isn’t respectful of the taxpayers who pay for those benefits.

Each article will only take a few minutes to read, and if you want to dig further into any topic we have more in-depth resources available.

1. How Pension Benefits Are Calculated

2. Vesting

3. The Pension Funding Formula

4. Assumed Rate of Return

5. Normal Cost

6. Unfunded Liabilities (aka Pension Debt)

7. Actuarially Determined Contributions

8. Paying the Pension Bill

9. Funded Status

10. Governance

11. Pension Myths & Facts: The Assumed Rate of Return Does Not Determine the Value of Benefits

12. Pension Myths & Facts: The Funded Status of Pension Plans Does Not Depend on More Public Employees