Government employees

Wisconsin: 69 Percent Favor 401(k)-Style Accounts for Government Workers


The latest Reason-Rupe poll of 708 Wisconsin adults on landline and cell phones finds support among Wisconsin voters to reform public employee retirement plans. 69 percent support transitioning new government employees who have not been promised pension benefits from a defined-benefit guaranteed pension plan to a 401(k)-style account based on the amount they've saved for retirement and investment returns.

In fact, even a majority (53 percent) of current government workers favor such a transition, as well as 79 percent of private sector workers. Nevertheless, since the proposed change would not affect current public workers it's difficult to say whether they would favor such a change for their own retirement plans. Moreover, support for transitioning to 401(k)-style accounts extends beyond partisanship, education, income, and vote choice.

Currently in Wisconsin, government employees are promised defined-benefit pension plans that promise a guaranteed amount of income in retirement.  Although these plans were once fairly popular, the private sector has largely shifted toward 401(k)-style accounts, which offer lower guaranteed benefits but also have the prospect of earning even higher income when the market does well. These accounts tend to cost the government less but also offer a lower guaranteed return for retirees.

Perhaps Wisconsinites are open to reforming government worker retirement plans because 65 percent believe public workers receive better retirement benefits than workers with similar jobs in the private sector.

Government employees will typically get guaranteed pension payments during retirement, while private sector workers will typically get payments from 401(k) -style accounts based on the amount they saved for retirement and investment returns. For new government employees who have not been promised pension benefits, would you favor or oppose shifting them from guaranteed pensions to 401(k) -style accounts?

Full poll results can be found here and cross tabs here.

ORC International conducted fieldwork for the poll, May 14th-18th 2012 of both mobile and landline phones, 708 Wisconsin adults, margin of error +/- 3.7%.  Likely Wisconsin voters (609, MOE +/-4%) include registered respondents who said they are absolutely certain to vote or very likely to vote in the June 5th recall election for governor.

Emily Ekins is the director of polling for Reason Foundation where she leads the Reason-Rupe public opinion research project, launched in 2011. Follow her on Twitter @emilyekins.


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  4. If public sector employees were on 401k plans, their pension amounts would not be “guaranteed”, but they would also not be at risk of bankruptcy or default. Public and private 401ks accounts enjoy limited protection by a social custom everyone understands: private property.

    The cost of DB plans is an actuarial estimate that is often fudged. The cost of 401ks is up front, cannot be fudged, and could be even higher than at present, if states are generous enough. The main advantage of 401ks is that elected officials cannot deceive themselves and us by kicking the can down the road.

  5. As a retired Wisconsin state employee, I am surprised that I supposedly have a “defined benefit pension,” since my monthly checks have gone down for the last two years. Our benefits are wisely invested by the Employee Trust Fund but are affected by market returns.
    BTW, what would a poll say about switching Social Security to a 401K type program?

  6. thanks you very good nice admin room’s comment’s cinsel chat & chat sohbet poll as e retired wisconsin state empployee

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