Most U.S. states promise their employees pensions upon retirement, but aren’t saving enough money to be able to deliver on those promises. The fallout could threaten state budgets more broadly.

In a pension plan, employees and employers both pay into a system which the employer invests in order to be able to make payouts when the employee retires. Employees’ contributions are deducted from every paycheck.

But when state budgets are tight, many states put off paying the employer’s share. This leaves them with payments due to fund future pension payments. This debt tends to be a state’s largest financial liability, according to Pew, ahead of retiree health care benefits and overall debt. When the liabilities get too high, states may be forced to take money out of health care, safety, and education to meet minimum requirements for funding pension plans.

Stacker examined pension liability data compiled by Pew Trusts to see which states have the highest rates of unfunded retirement benefits. The analysis shows the states that have the highest unfunded pension liabilities (for state-administered defined benefit plans), unfunded retiree health care costs, and tax-supported state debt. These figures are all expressed as a share of overall personal income in a state, excluding capital gains, to normalize the size of the liability based on the state’s potential tax income. States are ranked by the ratio of unfunded pension liabilities to income, with ties broken by the percentage point change from 2007 to 2019.

Liabilities vary depending on the size of a state’s budget and population, as well as the health of the overall economy. Collectively, states’ unfunded pension benefits added up to $1.25 trillion in fiscal year 2019. That’s 6.8% of total income.

Only two states, South Dakota and Wisconsin, had pension plan savings that were equal to or higher than what they owed.

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Madison state capitol in the daytime.
Sean Pavone // Shutterstock

#50. Wisconsin

– Unfunded pension liabilities (2019): -1.0%
— Percentage point change from 2007: -1.2
– Unfunded retiree health care costs (2016): 0.5% (tied for #14 lowest)
— Percentage point change from 2010: -0.2
– Debt (2020): 2.7%
— Percentage point change since 2007: -1.1

Elderly couple putting coin into money box.
Inside Creative House // Shutterstock

#49. South Dakota

– Unfunded pension liabilities (2019): 0.0%
— Percentage point change from 2007: -0.6
– Unfunded retiree health care costs (2016): 0.0% (#3 lowest)
— Percentage point change from 2010: -0.2
– Debt (2020): 0.8%
— Percentage point change since 2007: +0.4

Social security administration brick sign.
Jerome L Lawson // Shutterstock

#48. Tennessee

– Unfunded pension liabilities (2019): 0.2%
— Percentage point change from 2007: -0.5
– Unfunded retiree health care costs (2016): 0.5% (tied for #14 lowest)
— Percentage point change from 2010: -0.2
– Debt (2020): 0.5%
— Percentage point change since 2007: -0.1

Close up of a nurse helping a patient.
Dmytro Zinkevych // Shutterstock

#47. New York

– Unfunded pension liabilities (2019): 0.6%
— Percentage point change from 2007: +1.5
– Unfunded retiree health care costs (2016): 7.7% (#7 highest)
— Percentage point change from 2010: +1.7
– Debt (2020): 4.9%
— Percentage point change since 2007: -0.9

Seattle downtown skyline and Mt. Rainier.
SCStock // Shutterstock

#46. Washington

– Unfunded pension liabilities (2019): 0.8%
— Percentage point change from 2007: +0.7
– Unfunded retiree health care costs (2016): 2.7% (#23 highest)
— Percentage point change from 2010: 0
– Debt (2020): 3.9%
— Percentage point change since 2007: -0.5

Close up of a hand on a calculator.
wutzkohphoto // Shutterstock

#45. Nebraska

– Unfunded pension liabilities (2019): 1.1%
— Percentage point change from 2007: +0.1
– Unfunded retiree health care costs (2016): 0.0% (tied for #1 lowest)
— Percentage point change from 2010: 0
– Debt (2020): 0.0%
— Percentage point change since 2007: 0

Boise street leading to the capitol building in fall.
Charles Knowles // Shutterstock

#44. Idaho

– Unfunded pension liabilities (2019): 1.2%
— Percentage point change from 2007: +2.4
– Unfunded retiree health care costs (2016): 0.2% (tied for #9 lowest)
— Percentage point change from 2010: -0.1
– Debt (2020): 1.0%
— Percentage point change since 2007: -0.1

Salt Lake City downtown city skyline at dusk.
Sean Pavone // Shutterstock

#43. Utah

– Unfunded pension liabilities (2019): 2.0%
— Percentage point change from 2007: +0.8
– Unfunded retiree health care costs (2016): 0.1% (tied for #7 lowest)
— Percentage point change from 2010: -0.3
– Debt (2020): 1.7%
— Percentage point change since 2007: 0

Senior couple sitting on a wooden dock by a lake.
Monkey Business Images // Shutterstock

#42. North Carolina

– Unfunded pension liabilities (2019): 2.6%
— Percentage point change from 2007: +3.4
– Unfunded retiree health care costs (2016): 7.5% (#8 highest)
— Percentage point change from 2010: -2.1
– Debt (2020): 1.0%
— Percentage point change since 2007: -1.5

Aerial view of downtown Council Bluffs.
Jacob Boomsma // Shutterstock

#41. Iowa

– Unfunded pension liabilities (2019): 3.7%
— Percentage point change from 2007: +1.5
– Unfunded retiree health care costs (2016): 0.4% (#12 lowest)
— Percentage point change from 2010: 0
– Debt (2020): 0.3%
— Percentage point change since 2007: 0

Elderly person reads a printed letter, sitting at a desk.
Sergii Gnatiuk // Shutterstock

#40. Delaware

– Unfunded pension liabilities (2019): 3.9%
— Percentage point change from 2007: +3.6
– Unfunded retiree health care costs (2016): 15.4% (#3 highest)
— Percentage point change from 2010: -0.3
– Debt (2020): 6.1%
— Percentage point change since 2007: +1.3

Senior couple holding hands walking on the beach.
J.A. Dunbar // Shutterstock

#39. Florida

– Unfunded pension liabilities (2019): 4.0%
— Percentage point change from 2007: +4.3
– Unfunded retiree health care costs (2016): 1.0% (#17 lowest)
— Percentage point change from 2010: +0.3
– Debt (2020): 1.3%
— Percentage point change since 2007: -1.2

Oklahoma City downtown skyline in the afternoon.
Sean Pavone // Shutterstock

#38. Oklahoma

– Unfunded pension liabilities (2019): 4.1%
— Percentage point change from 2007: -4.8
– Unfunded retiree health care costs (2016): 0.0% (tied for #1 lowest)
— Percentage point change from 2010: 0
– Debt (2020): 0.7%
— Percentage point change since 2007: -0.6

Retired couple sitting outdoors having coffee.
Monkey Business Images // Shutterstock

#37. Maine

– Unfunded pension liabilities (2019): 4.1%
— Percentage point change from 2007: -1.5
– Unfunded retiree health care costs (2016): 3.0% (#21 highest)
— Percentage point change from 2010: -1.8
– Debt (2020): 1.9%
— Percentage point change since 2007: +0.2

West Virginia State Capitol on the Kanawha River in Charleston, West Virginia.
Sean Pavone // Shutterstock

#36. West Virginia

– Unfunded pension liabilities (2019): 4.2%
— Percentage point change from 2007: -3.7
– Unfunded retiree health care costs (2016): 4.0% (#14 highest)
— Percentage point change from 2010: -7.5
– Debt (2020): 3.6%
— Percentage point change since 2007: +0.1

Senior talking on phone while holding paper looking concerned.
Prostock-studio // Shutterstock

#35. Indiana

– Unfunded pension liabilities (2019): 4.3%
— Percentage point change from 2007: -0.6
– Unfunded retiree health care costs (2016): 0.1% (#7 lowest)
— Percentage point change from 2010: -0.1
– Debt (2020): 0.4%
— Percentage point change since 2007: -0.9

Minnesota welcomes you sign at the state border.
photo.ua // Shutterstock

#34. Minnesota

– Unfunded pension liabilities (2019): 4.6%
— Percentage point change from 2007: +0.5
– Unfunded retiree health care costs (2016): 0.3% (#11 lowest)
— Percentage point change from 2010: -0.2
– Debt (2020): 2.3%
— Percentage point change since 2007: +0.2

View of Virginia beach homes near the beach.
John S. Quinn // Shutterstock

#33. Virginia

– Unfunded pension liabilities (2019): 4.7%
— Percentage point change from 2007: +1.5
– Unfunded retiree health care costs (2016): 1.2% (#21 lowest)
— Percentage point change from 2010: -0.2
– Debt (2020): 2.8%
— Percentage point change since 2007: +1.1

Senior's hands holding a piggy bank.
Piyaset // Shutterstock

#32. Georgia

– Unfunded pension liabilities (2019): 5.0%
— Percentage point change from 2007: +3.8
– Unfunded retiree health care costs (2016): 3.7% (#16 highest)
— Percentage point change from 2010: -1.9
– Debt (2020): 1.9%
— Percentage point change since 2007: -0.8

Elderly people enjoy a view of a lake.
Maria Surtu // Shutterstock

#31. Arkansas

– Unfunded pension liabilities (2019): 5.3%
— Percentage point change from 2007: +2.4
– Unfunded retiree health care costs (2016): 1.9% (#23 lowest)
— Percentage point change from 2010: -0.1
– Debt (2020): 1.2%
— Percentage point change since 2007: +0.4

Man and woman with a walker witting on a bench.
R.A. Walker Photography // Shutterstock

#30. Texas

– Unfunded pension liabilities (2019): 5.4%
— Percentage point change from 2007: +3.9
– Unfunded retiree health care costs (2016): 6.8% (#9 highest)
— Percentage point change from 2010: +1.2
– Debt (2020): 0.7%
— Percentage point change since 2007: -0.6

Elderly hands and younger hands solving a jigsaw puzzle together.
Robert Kneschke // Shutterstock

#29. New Hampshire

– Unfunded pension liabilities (2019): 5.6%
— Percentage point change from 2007: +1.5
– Unfunded retiree health care costs (2016): 3.9% (#15 highest)
— Percentage point change from 2010: -1.3
– Debt (2020): 1.1%
— Percentage point change since 2007: 0

Aerial view of Lawrence and Kansas State University.
Jacob Boomsma // Shutterstock

#28. Kansas

– Unfunded pension liabilities (2019): 5.7%
— Percentage point change from 2007: +0.5
– Unfunded retiree health care costs (2016): 0.2% (#10 lowest)
— Percentage point change from 2010: -0.3
– Debt (2020): 2.6%
— Percentage point change since 2007: -0.6

Senior couple working on finances together.
StockImageFactory.com // Shutterstock

#27. Missouri

– Unfunded pension liabilities (2019): 5.7%
— Percentage point change from 2007: +1.7
– Unfunded retiree health care costs (2016): 1.1% (#19 lowest)
— Percentage point change from 2010: -0.2
– Debt (2020): 0.8%
— Percentage point change since 2007: -1.1

Senior with laptop and smartphone.
Ground Picture // Shutterstock

#26. Maryland

– Unfunded pension liabilities (2019): 5.7%
— Percentage point change from 2007: +2.1
– Unfunded retiree health care costs (2016): 3.5% (#19 highest)
— Percentage point change from 2010: -2.1
– Debt (2020): 3.6%
— Percentage point change since 2007: +0.9

Aerial view of Grand Forks in autumn.
Jacob Boomsma // Shutterstock

#25. North Dakota

– Unfunded pension liabilities (2019): 5.7%
— Percentage point change from 2007: +3.4
– Unfunded retiree health care costs (2016): 0.2% (tied for #9 lowest)
— Percentage point change from 2010: -0.1
– Debt (2020): 0.1%
— Percentage point change since 2007: -0.9

Smiley people doing yoga class at city park.
DisobeyArt // Shutterstock

#24. Ohio

– Unfunded pension liabilities (2019): 7.2%
— Percentage point change from 2007: +3
– Unfunded retiree health care costs (2016): 1.9% (#24 lowest)
— Percentage point change from 2010: -3.8
– Debt (2020): 2.1%
— Percentage point change since 2007: -0.5

Elderly couple enjoying cotton candy at Pacific Park in Santa Monica.
Rawpixel.com // Shutterstock

#23. California

– Unfunded pension liabilities (2019): 7.3%
— Percentage point change from 2007: +4
– Unfunded retiree health care costs (2016): 3.5% (#20 highest)
— Percentage point change from 2010: -1.3
– Debt (2020): 3.1%
— Percentage point change since 2007: -0.9

Elderly couple working on a budget on couch.
PeopleImages.com – Yuri A // Shutterstock

#22. Colorado

– Unfunded pension liabilities (2019): 7.5%
— Percentage point change from 2007: +1
– Unfunded retiree health care costs (2016): 0.7% (#16 lowest)
— Percentage point change from 2010: -0.2
– Debt (2020): 1.1%
— Percentage point change since 2007: +0.4

Aerial view of Peacham in the fall.
NEKVT // Shutterstock

#21. Vermont

– Unfunded pension liabilities (2019): 7.5%
— Percentage point change from 2007: +6.8
– Unfunded retiree health care costs (2016): 5.8% (#10 highest)
— Percentage point change from 2010: -0.4
– Debt (2020): 1.9%
— Percentage point change since 2007: +0.1

Couple reviewing and signing paperwork in kitchen.
Monkey Business Images // Shutterstock

#20. Wyoming

– Unfunded pension liabilities (2019): 7.8%
— Percentage point change from 2007: +6.3
– Unfunded retiree health care costs (2016): 2.1% (#25 lowest)
— Percentage point change from 2010: +1.2
– Debt (2020): 0.0%
— Percentage point change since 2007: -0.2

Sunrise view of Portland from the Pittock Mansion.
Josemaria Toscano // Shutterstock

#19. Oregon

– Unfunded pension liabilities (2019): 7.8%
— Percentage point change from 2007: +12.7
– Unfunded retiree health care costs (2016): 0.1% (tied for #7 lowest)
— Percentage point change from 2010: -0.3
– Debt (2020): 3.6%
— Percentage point change since 2007: -1

Retired couple walking around the town with a map.
Jacob Lund // Shutterstock

#18. Alabama

– Unfunded pension liabilities (2019): 7.9%
— Percentage point change from 2007: +2.7
– Unfunded retiree health care costs (2016): 4.6% (#13 highest)
— Percentage point change from 2010: -4.6
– Debt (2020): 2.2%
— Percentage point change since 2007: -0.4

Person fishing on small boat on lake.
Michael Sean OLeary // Shutterstock

#17. Massachusetts

– Unfunded pension liabilities (2019): 7.9%
— Percentage point change from 2007: +4.2
– Unfunded retiree health care costs (2016): 3.7% (#17 highest)
— Percentage point change from 2010: -0.6
– Debt (2020): 8.0%
— Percentage point change since 2007: +0.9

Senior couple working with their bills at home.
wavebreakmedia // Shutterstock

#16. Arizona

– Unfunded pension liabilities (2019): 8.0%
— Percentage point change from 2007: +4.5
– Unfunded retiree health care costs (2016): 0.0% (#4 lowest)
— Percentage point change from 2010: -0.3
– Debt (2020): 0.9%
— Percentage point change since 2007: -0.9

Couple walking by stores in downtown New Orleans.
Kristi Blokhin // Shutterstock

#15. Louisiana

– Unfunded pension liabilities (2019): 8.2%
— Percentage point change from 2007: +1.5
– Unfunded retiree health care costs (2016): 2.7% (#22 highest)
— Percentage point change from 2010: -4
– Debt (2020): 3.1%
— Percentage point change since 2007: +0.7

Elderly person using wooden walking cane.
Ground Picture // Shutterstock

#14. Montana

– Unfunded pension liabilities (2019): 8.4%
— Percentage point change from 2007: +3.9
– Unfunded retiree health care costs (2016): 1.0% (#18 lowest)
— Percentage point change from 2010: -0.5
– Debt (2020): 0.3%
— Percentage point change since 2007: -0.7

Michigan Theater on State Street in downtown Ann Arbor.
Hanson L // Shutterstock

#13. Michigan

– Unfunded pension liabilities (2019): 8.4%
— Percentage point change from 2007: +6.2
– Unfunded retiree health care costs (2016): 2.1% (#25 highest)
— Percentage point change from 2010: -10.4
– Debt (2020): 1.2%
— Percentage point change since 2007: -0.9

Senior relaxing in hammock with e-book.
Monkey Business Images // Shutterstock

#12. Nevada

– Unfunded pension liabilities (2019): 8.6%
— Percentage point change from 2007: +2.5
– Unfunded retiree health care costs (2016): 1.1% (#20 lowest)
— Percentage point change from 2010: -0.5
– Debt (2020): 1.1%
— Percentage point change since 2007: -0.5

Downtown skyline of Pittsburgh.
Sean Pavone // Shutterstock

#11. Pennsylvania

– Unfunded pension liabilities (2019): 8.8%
— Percentage point change from 2007: +6.8
– Unfunded retiree health care costs (2016): 3.6% (#18 highest)
— Percentage point change from 2010: +0.4
– Debt (2020): 2.3%
— Percentage point change since 2007: +0.2

Close up shot of person opening empty wallet.
Me dia // Shutterstock

#10. Rhode Island

– Unfunded pension liabilities (2019): 9.2%
— Percentage point change from 2007: -2.1
– Unfunded retiree health care costs (2016): 1.4% (#22 lowest)
— Percentage point change from 2010: -0.5
– Debt (2020): 3.9%
— Percentage point change since 2007: -0.4

Historical downtown area of Charleston.
f11photo // Shutterstock

#9. South Carolina

– Unfunded pension liabilities (2019): 11.1%
— Percentage point change from 2007: +3.5
– Unfunded retiree health care costs (2016): 5.2% (#11 highest)
— Percentage point change from 2010: -0.8
– Debt (2020): 0.9%
— Percentage point change since 2007: -2.1

Group of smiling senior people dancing.
SeventyFour // Shutterstock

#8. Connecticut

– Unfunded pension liabilities (2019): 14.8%
— Percentage point change from 2007: +7.3
– Unfunded retiree health care costs (2016): 8.8% (#5 highest)
— Percentage point change from 2010: -3.2
– Debt (2020): 8.9%
— Percentage point change since 2007: +2.5

Aerial view of Covington and downtown Cincinnati from Devou Park.
Rotorhead 30A Productions // Shutterstock

#7. Kentucky

– Unfunded pension liabilities (2019): 15.2%
— Percentage point change from 2007: +7.5
– Unfunded retiree health care costs (2016): 2.6% (#24 highest)
— Percentage point change from 2010: -2.6
– Debt (2020): 4.2%
— Percentage point change since 2007: -0.2

The Mississippi State Capitol Building in downtown Jackson.
Katherine Welles // Shutterstock

#6. Mississippi

– Unfunded pension liabilities (2019): 15.3%
— Percentage point change from 2007: +6.8
– Unfunded retiree health care costs (2016): 0.7% (#15 lowest)
— Percentage point change from 2010: -0.1
– Debt (2020): 4.5%
— Percentage point change since 2007: +0.2

Side view of a happy senior smiling while painting.
belushi // Shutterstock

#5. New Mexico

– Unfunded pension liabilities (2019): 15.7%
— Percentage point change from 2007: +8.6
– Unfunded retiree health care costs (2016): 4.7% (#12 highest)
— Percentage point change from 2010: -0.1
– Debt (2020): 2.2%
— Percentage point change since 2007: -2.4

Alaska welcome sign.
Ingo70 // Shutterstock

#4. Alaska

– Unfunded pension liabilities (2019): 16.3%
— Percentage point change from 2007: +4.3
– Unfunded retiree health care costs (2016): 19.7% (#1 highest)
— Percentage point change from 2010: +2.2
– Debt (2020): 1.8%
— Percentage point change since 2007: -0.3

Senior couple sitting at table doing finances.
bbernard // Shutterstock

#3. Hawaii

– Unfunded pension liabilities (2019): 18.0%
— Percentage point change from 2007: +8.5
– Unfunded retiree health care costs (2016): 12.7% (#4 highest)
— Percentage point change from 2010: -15.3
– Debt (2020): 10.4%
— Percentage point change since 2007: +1.7

Senior couple walking in Millennium Park.
Page Light Studios // Shutterstock

#2. Illinois

– Unfunded pension liabilities (2019): 19.4%
— Percentage point change from 2007: +11.6
– Unfunded retiree health care costs (2016): 8.0% (#6 highest)
— Percentage point change from 2010: -0.1
– Debt (2020): 4.5%
— Percentage point change since 2007: -0.2

Close up shot of a person signing a document.
Jacob Lund // Shutterstock

#1. New Jersey

– Unfunded pension liabilities (2019): 20.2%
— Percentage point change from 2007: +13.7
– Unfunded retiree health care costs (2016): 15.5% (#2 highest)
— Percentage point change from 2010: -0.4
– Debt (2020): 6.2%
— Percentage point change since 2007: -0.7

This story was written by Stacker and has been re-published pursuant to a CC BY-NC 4.0 License.

This post was originally published on this site


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This story was written by Stacker and has been re-published pursuant to a CC BY-NC 4.0 License. Founded in 2017, Stacker combines data analysis with rich editorial context, drawing on authoritative...

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