Are Counties Major Players In Public Pension Plans?


This brief examines county pension funding and costs as well as how they are administered.

Alicia Munnell, Jean-Pierre Aubry
Publication date:
May 2016
Filed under:
Research Studies
Key findings:
  • While the majority of county employees participate in state pension plans, counties in 22 states sponsor their own plans;
  • County pension costs, which include contributions to plans they administer and to state-run plans they participate in, equal 4.8 percent of their revenues;
  • The plans sponsored by counties are about 75 percent funded, slightly higher compared to other governmental entities.
  • Overall, counties hold 12 percent of unfunded public pension liabilities, indicating that – with a few exceptions – they play a modest role in the pension world.
Download publication:
May 2016- Are Counties Major Players in Public Pension Plans

Most analyses of public pensions focus on states and cities. Less has been written about the role of counties, which are significant public service providers in some states. This brief sheds light on pension activity at the county level by documenting the costs, funded status, and unfunded liabilities to determine whether counties should regularly be included in analyses of state and local pensions.