Public Pension Project

Most government employees, who make up about one-sixth of the US workforce, are covered by traditional pensions with lifelong retirement benefits. The plans promise economic security to long-term employees, but policymakers are beginning to question the fairness, sustainability, and suitability of these plans in a changing workplace. Workers who spend less than 20 years with a single employer generally receive few benefits from traditional plans, even as workers change jobs more frequently. Most of these plans encourage early retirement, which could create staffing shortages as the nation ages and the pool of younger workers stagnates. Few states can afford the benefits promised, potentially triggering cuts, taxpayer bailouts, or other government service reductions.

The Public Pension Project tackles these pressing issues by examining the cost and financing of government employee retirement plans, assessing their effectiveness, and evaluating reform options. The project is a joint effort by the Urban Institute’s Program on Retirement Policy and State and Local Finance Initiative. Our research is funded by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Pew Charitable Trusts, and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

Data Tool Image Retirement 

Public Pension Simulator
Use our Public Pension Simulator to compare existing state and local plans, design reform options, and gauge the impact on costs and benefits.


Data Tool Image Retirement 

The Urban Institute State and Local Employee Pension Plan Database
Our database reports the detailed formulas and other rules that states and municipalities use to compute retirement benefits for public-sector employees.


Data Tool Image Retirement 

The State of Retirement: Grading America's State and Local Pension Plans
Our pension report card and interactive map grade state-administered retirement plan funding; retirement security for short- and long-term employees; and incentives to younger, older, and mid-career workers.

Build Your Own Pension Image 

Build Your Own Pension Plan
Design retirement plans for government employees, and experiment with parameters to see the plan cost, benefit distribution, and score on Urban's pension report card vary as the rules change.