U.S. public pension plans play a significant role in leveling overall retirement wealth and overall family wealth by race and gender, a new report from the National Institute of Retirement Security said.
The report, “Closing the Gap: The Role of Public Pensions in Reducing Retirement Inequality,” functions as a companion to 51 fact sheets with data from the U.S. Census Bureau and other data sources on income, retirement plans and other household assets that show the retirement equity impact of public pension plans in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
According to the report, 35% of U.S. retirees who are age 65 or older are recipients of pension benefits. Forty-three percent of white men are most likely to have an income from pension benefits, followed by 35% of Black men, 34% of white women and 33% of Black women.
The report noted that while Latino men and women are least likely to receive pension benefits, at 25% and 18%, respectively, that source of income is significantly more important than income from 401(k) plans and individual retirement accounts. Only 8% and 4% of Latino men and women, respectively, receive their retirement income from those sources.
Nari Rhee, director of the Retirement Security Program at the UC Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education, is the author of the report. In a phone interview, she said the research has been her passion project to study growing wealth inequality, particularly across race and gender, and see how pension income helps abate that level of inequality.
“Knowing that public-sector employment has historically been a path into middle-class economic security, especially for the Black community, and also for women,” Rhee said she wanted to explore how that retirement income from pension plans has helped that path to economic security as well.
The report said that pension income provides a critical buffer against economic hardship in old age not only for Black seniors and women, but also Latino seniors and seniors without college degrees. Also notable, said Rhee, is that pension income distribution is relatively equal across race and gender groups.
“It’s probably more equitably distributed by race than really any other kind of income you get in retirement besides Social Security,” Rhee said. “Social Security is a great leveler, and after that it’s pensions.”
The report is available on the NIRS website.