by Douglas McIntyre | July 13, 2012 9:00 am
The eurozone debt crisis has had a profound effect on the world economy. Countries such as Greece, Ireland and Portugal received emergency bailout money to stay afloat. Meanwhile, the U.S. government currently holds more than $15.7 trillion in debt — and lawmakers cannot agree on the best way to rein it in.
Governments end up with massive debts for a number of reasons, including government pension spending. Many of the eurozone countries that have the largest debt problems are also ones with the most generous public pensions. Greece, the poster child for the eurozone crisis, needs to find 1.4 billion euros ($1.73 billion) to fund its pensions just in 2013.
When governments are faced with pension funds liabilities, they can take short-term remedies such as allowing the pension funds to go into debt or providing tax subsidies to fill the gap, says Matthias Rumpf, chief media officer for the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Options such as the tax subsidies can have a sizable impact on government budgets. But no matter what short-term fixes governments take, “most of the problems on the pension side will return in the future,” Rumpf says.
Some of the countries on the list currently suffer from very weak economies. However, strong public pensions aren’t necessarily indicative of a weak economy. The #2 and #8 countries on the list have perfect AAA foreign currency credit ratings from Standard & Poor’s. Those two countries, along with country #4, also have long-term unemployment rates below 2%. Not every country breaks the bank to fund pensions either. The #10, #2 and #6 countries each spend less than 10% of GDP on pensions, while still providing generous pension rates.
24/7 Wall St. identified the top 10 countries with the most generous public pensions. Based on a recent report by the OECD, they examined pension replacement rates, which measures how effectively a pension system provides income during retirement to replace earnings prior to retirement. A pension replacement rate of 100% means an employee would continue to receive a full salary during retirement. The countries on the list promise to cover the highest portion of the salaries of those joining the workforce in 2010.
The OECD report published data for its 34 member countries, the majority of which are in Europe, but also include countries such as the U.S., Canada and Japan. The measurements only take into account pension policies as of 2010, which Rumpf says will likely change over time. In order to reduce their liability, many countries have already begun moving away from guaranteed pensions to defined contribution pensions instead, plans modeled off of a 401k or 403b in the U.S.
24/7 Wall St. considered a number of other factors to provide additional context: the retirement age and life expectancy for both men and women, net pension replacement rates (pension payouts after adjusting for taxes and other fees) and replacement rates for those making more or less than the median income, along with additional factors provided by the OECD to examine the fiscal health of countries.
These are the 10 countries paying people to retire >>
This article originally appeared on 24/7 Wall St. on July 5, 2012.
The Czech Republic manages to pay 61-year old males with a median income more than half his salary prior to retirement. The deal gets even better for women, whose retirement age of 58.7 is the fourth lowest of all of the countries measured by the OECD. Still, pension spending is 9.1% of GDP, lower than any country on the list except for Turkey. Meanwhile, the country’s debt as a percentage of GDP is 36.6%, lower than all countries on the list except for Slovenia and Luxembourg.
In Portugal, both men and women retire at 65, an old retirement age compared to the majority of countries on the list. But at retirement, the pension replacement rate is 53.9% for median income workers, and that number rises to 69.2% after taking into account tax benefits. But Portugal is struggling fiscally, and with sovereign debt accounting for 88% of GDP, it still has a long way to go to reach fiscal health. Meanwhile, its long-term unemployment rate for people age 15-64 is 5.64%, tied with Greece for the second-highest on this list and tied for the fourth highest among all OECD countries.
The retirement age for both men and women in Finland is also 65, but retirees get 57.8% of their income prior to retirement. Finland currently pays out 12% of its GDP in public pensions, which is the sixth highest out of the 31 countries for which the OECD has data and well higher than the OECD average of 8.4%. But the high pension spending hasn’t necessarily taken an undue burden on the country’s overall fiscal health. Finland’s sovereign debt of 41.7% of GDP is far better than countries such as Greece and Italy.
In Slovenia, men can retire at 63 and women at 61. When they retire, Slovenians are paid 62.4% of their salaries. It gets even better after taxes, where the net pension replacement rate is as high as 85.4% for workers making the median income. This is higher than all but four countries on the list. Despite this, Slovenia’s sovereign debt as a percentage of GDP is 36%, the lowest on this list except for Luxembourg.
The retirement age above isn’t a typo — men retire at 44.9 in Turkey and women at 41. Despite the early retirement age, the country still pays out 64.5% of a person’s salary for retirement, which on average lasts for more than 30 years for men and nearly 38 years for women. Net replacement rates are even better. Turkey’s 93.1% payout is better than all countries except for Greece and Luxembourg.
Fortunately for Turkey, the generous pensions haven’t taken a significant toll on the government. The country’s debt is only about 43%, far better than countries such as Greece and Italy. Furthermore, only 7.3% of GDP is spent on pensions, the 10th lowest out of the 31 countries for which the OECD provided data, which is more remarkable given the early retirement age. The country also spends $7,960 per person on health care, the best out of any country the OECD measured.
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Italians can receive a cushy pension at quite an early age. At age 59, an employee making the median income — along with those making half and one-and-a-half times the median income — can begin receiving a pension
paying out 64.5% of an individual’s salary. Considering that the average woman lives to the age of 86, that is a long pension payout. Italy is the only country except for Greece to hold more debt than its GDP. The country spends 15.3% of its GDP on public pensions, more than any other country in the OECD.
Those making the median income in government can receive more than three-quarters of their salary following retirement. That is an especially good deal for women, who are expected to live for more than 25 years after retiring at 60. This could take a hefty toll on the government, but the high employment for those aged 15-64 of 72.2% helps to keep these pensions funded. Furthermore, household disposable income of $27,541 is higher than any country on this list except for Luxembourg, which helps put Austria’s economy on stronger footing compared to some of its European peers.
Despite Spain’s significant economic woes, the country manages to pay out a sizable pension to employees. Spain’s pension pays 81.2% of the salary for those making the median income, half the median income and one-and-a-half times the median income. While the retirement age is higher than in many of the countries on the list, men are expected to live 18 years after retirement age, while women are expected to live more than 21 years following retirement, leading to a sizeable government payout. This comes as Spain has been severely hampered by unemployment. More than 9% of those between ages 15-64 have been looking for a job for more than a year, more than any other country measured by the OECD.
In Luxembourg, once reaching the age of 60, citizens making the median income can begin drawing 87.4% of their income. Meanwhile, for those making only half the median income, they can take home 97.9% of their salary by age 60. Fortunately, Luxembourg’s economy is far stronger than other European countries such as Greece. Its sovereign debt is only 12.6% of GDP, the best of all countries on this list and the fourth best of countries measured by the OECD. Furthermore, household disposable income is $35,321, second only to the U.S. in the countries measured by the OECD, while household wealth is $72,644, after only the U.S. and Switzerland.
Greece’s public employees get a pretty sweet deal. They get to enjoy nearly a full salary for life beginning at age 57, the earliest retirement age of all countries except for Turkey. After figuring in tax deductions, the replacement rate for those making the median income is 111.2%, the only country with net replacement rates above 100% for that income level. Since both men and women are expected to live into their 80s, the government is on the hook for a lot as evidenced by the 13.6% of GDP that is spent on public pensions — more than all countries in the OECD except for three. Government spending in Greece has definitely taken its toll. The country has $147.80 of debt for every $100 in GDP, a higher ratio than any other country on the list by a long shot.
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