Tuesday, February 22, 2005

This L.A. Times story notes that a number of states have given workers the option of switching their pension plans to Bush-style accounts -- and the private accounts have been a bust:

Montana: 30,000 public employees were given the two options; after a one-year enrollment period and hundreds of seminars, 3% chose individual accounts....

Michigan: Of 57,000 workers eligible to pick between traditional pension plans and individual accounts, about 3,000 chose accounts.

Ohio: About 5% of eligible state workers have opted for retirement plans based partly or entirely on individual accounts.

Florida: Given the choice of keeping a traditional pension or moving to an investment account or a hybrid plan (an account with a pared-down pension), 7% of workers picked the account-only option.

Interesting. But I think the performance of private accounts in one state is more interesting:

...when Nebraska's state and county workers were given do-it-yourself accounts, they made so many investment errors that they ended up making less than colleagues with fixed-benefit pensions -- and less than what analysts have said is needed for old age. Their poor performance led the Nebraska Legislature two years ago to junk the accounts for new employees....

The state pioneered accounts for public employees in 1964 but restricted them to state and county workers. Teachers, judges and others were left in traditional pensions, where, in contrast to the accounts, their assets were professionally managed.

Three and a half decades later, in 2000, a consultant working for the state discovered that individual account holders were making 6% to 7% a year on their money while the investment professionals who handled the state's pension assets earned 10.5% to 11%.

The Nebraska Legislature reacted by dropping the accounts for all employees hired after January 2003, in favor of a centrally run "cash balance" plan that guarantees a minimum of 5% a year and can deliver higher returns depending on how its managers do. During the first year, the accounts earned 8%.

"People weren't eating, sleeping, drinking investment all the time, so they didn't get the results the professionals did," said Sullivan, the state retirement director.

Well, duh.

(Story also available at Yahoo News).

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