In A History of Public Sector Pensions in the United States, Clark, Craig, and Wilson write:
Decades before the states or the federal government provided civilian workers with a pension plan, several large American cities established plans for at least some of their employees. Until the first decades of the twentieth century, however, these plans were generally limited to three groups of employees: police officers, firefighters, and teachers.
In 1911, Massachusetts became the first state to offer a pension plan to general state employees. It took some time, however, for pensions to become available in most states, with just six offering any form of a civil service pension plan as of 1929.
Today, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are more than 2,500 public retirement systems in the U.S. that administer defined benefit pension benefits to employees of state and local government.
The largest 75 systems account for approximately 80 percent of all participants and assets. The largest public retirement system has assets of more than $300 billion, and more than one million active and retired members; the smallest systems have assets of less than $1 million.
While it is not feasible to make generalizations from one plan to another, or from one time period to another, and it is a misconception to hold that there is a one-size-fits-all solution to plan design and financing, there are core principles that are pervasive among public retirement plans: mandatory participation, shared financing, benefit adequacy, pooled investment and longevity risks, and lifetime benefit payouts.
To find information on public retirement systems by state, click on a state, or territory, listed at the left.