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A Widening Gap in Cities: Shortfalls in Funding for Pensions and Retiree Health Care

January 1, 2013

As the Great Recession ended, 61 key cities across America -- the most populous one in each state plus all others with more than 500,000 people -- emerged with a gap of more than $217 billion between what they had promised their workers in pensions and retiree health care and what they had saved to pay that bill. While states have a much larger shortfall, cities face the same daunting challenges posed by unfunded liabilities for their public sector retirement benefits.For pensions, these cities had a shortfall of $99 billion in fiscal year 2009, the most recent year with complete data. The gap continued to widen in fiscal year 2010 as reflected by complete data for 40 of the cities, which saw unfunded pension liabilities rise by another 15 percent.Besides pensions, many localities also have promised health care, life insurance, and other non-pension benefits to their retirees, but few have started saving to cover these long-term costs. These unfunded liabilities loom even larger than for pensions (see graphic). As of fiscal year 2009, the cities in this report had promised at least $118 billion more than they had in hand to cover retiree health care benefits.Wide disparities exist in how prepared cities are to fulfill their pension obligations. Milwaukee and Washington, D.C., had surpluses at the end of fiscal year 2009, with enough money to cover 113 percent and 104 percent, respectively, of their liabilities, better than the best-funded state, New York, at 101 percent.In four cities -- Charleston; Omaha; Portland, Oregon; and Providence, Rhode Island -- pension systems were more poorly funded than those in Illinois, which at 51 percent was the lowest-funded state.Charleston trailed all the other cities at 24 percent.Overall, the cities had enough money to cover 74 percent of their pension obligations in fiscal year 2009, compared with 78 percent for states.Cities have more in common when it comes to gaps in funding for retiree health care and other non-pension benefits.As of fiscal year 2009, overall, cities had set aside enough money to cover just 6 percent of their promises, compared with slightly more than 5 percent in states.Only Los Angeles and Denver had even half of the money needed.

Banking on Arbitration: Big Banks, Consumers, and Checking Account Dispute Resolution

November 1, 2012

Checking accounts are the cornerstone of household financial management, with nine out of 10 Americans using them to deposit earnings, pay bills, manage money, and build an ongoing relationship with a financial institution. However, despite this widespread use, consumers often are unaware of the terms of their checking account agreements. For instance, Pew found that many consumers are unaware that account agreements restrict their options if they have a dispute with their financial institution. Pew's prior research on terms and conditions of checking account agreements revealed that limitations on dispute resolution, including mandatory binding arbitration clauses, are common. These clauses require consumers to submit all complaints against their financial institution to a third-party decision maker (called an "arbitrator") instead of to a court. Building on earlier research, this report studies the account agreements of the 100 largest retail banks and credit unions by deposit volume to determine the prevalence of mandatory bindingarbitration clauses and other dispute resolution terms. Of these, Pew was able to obtain 92 checking account agreements (85 banks and 7 credit unions). (See Appendix A for list of financial institutions.) The focus was only on what was disclosed in these agreements, not additional rules and procedures required by the private arbitration companies.Additionally, Pew commissioned a survey of 603 consumers to ascertain American attitudes toward mandatory binding arbitration in checking accounts. (See Appendix B for additional discussion of methodology.)

Time Served: The High Cost, Low Return of Longer Prison Terms

June 6, 2012

Examines trends in the length of prison terms by state and type of offense, factors that determine time served, outcomes of increased time served, and state policies to shorten length of stay in prisons while increasing public safety and reducing cost.

Joining HANDS for a Comprehensive System of Care

May 19, 2012

Outlines Kentucky's Health Access Nurturing Development Services model for providing home visiting services as part of an integrated early childhood system for at-risk families as a way to improve children's lives and save costs, and lessons learned.

Economic Mobility of the States: Executive Summary

May 9, 2012

Summarizes key findings about workers' average earnings growth and changes in ranking relative to their peers in each state, based on a comparison of earnings at ages 35-39 and those ten years later. Includes link to interactive map with data table.

Evidence Counts: Evaluating State Tax Incentives for Jobs and Growth

April 12, 2012

Assesses how well states evaluate the efficacy of their tax policies in strengthening their economies, including credits, exemptions, and deductions for businesses. Outlines promising practices that measure economic impact and inform policy choices.

A Costly Dental Destination: Hospital Care Means States Pay Dearly

February 28, 2012

Examines the increase in emergency room visits for dental care; contributing factors, including the shortage of dentists who accept Medicaid; costs to states; and policy recommendations such as focusing on prevention and expanding the dental workforce.

Inaccurate, Costly, and Inefficient: Evidence That America's Voter Registration System Needs an Upgrade

February 14, 2012

Outlines the cost of inaccurate or multiple registrations, registrations of the deceased, and unregistered eligible voters and plans to update lists via data comparison with other sources, proven data-matching techniques, and expanded online registration.

Democracy From Afar: States Show Progress on Military and Overseas Voting

January 27, 2012

Gives an overview of reforms in state laws to provide military and overseas voters enough time to vote, electronic transmission of unvoted ballots, elimination of notarization or witness requirements, and expanded use of federal write-in absentee ballots.

Transforming Public Education: Pathway to a Pre-K-12 Future

September 23, 2011

Based on interviews, research on early childhood learning, and lessons from efforts to expand pre-K access, argues for a pre-K-12 public education system. Outlines progress to date and reforms needed to improve school and life outcomes with pre-K for all.

Measuring Transportation Investments: The Road to Results

May 10, 2011

Evaluates states' tracking of transportation system investments and details the need for goals, performance measures, and data to ensure they advance safety, economic growth, mobility, access, environmental stewardship, and infrastructure preservation.

The State of Children's Dental Health: Making Coverage Matter

May 1, 2011

Examines states' progress since 2010 in meeting the dental care needs of publicly insured and soon-to-be insured children, including providing fluoridated water to 75 percent of residents and Medicaid reimbursements for preventive care.The state that children call home can make a big difference in the health of their teeth.  In this year's 50-state report card by the Pew Children's Dental Campaign, 27 states earned grades of an A or B, while 23 states and the District of Columbia received a C or lower grade. However, the 2011 grades for 22 states were higher than their 2010 grades, revealing that even in a time of fiscal distress, dental health policies can be improved.More than 16 million U.S. children go without even basic dental care each year. Pew's report card, The State of Children's Dental Health: Making Coverage Matter, assesses states' ability to serve insured and soon-to-be-insured children.