The future of many pension funds is precarious. The Insolvent Central States Pension Fund has proposed cutting benefits to retirees by 23 percent (Washington Post).
Thus far in 2016, the U.S. Department of Labor has publicly declared the future of 77 pension funds critical, 33 critical and decreasing and 42 endangered. It is estimated that state and local government pension funds have more than a trillion dollars in unfunded liabilities, and it could be as much as three times that amount. Unfunded portions of corporate pension plans are estimated to exceed $400 billion.
According to a Pew study, the cities of Charleston, Omaha, Portland, Chicago and Little Rock have pension plans that are less than 60 percent funded. Similarly, the states of Illinois, Kentucky, Connecticut, Alaska, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Louisiana have state plans that are less than 60 percent funded.
Moody's estimated that the federal retirement plan for federal workers and military personnel has $3.5 trillion that is unfunded. Medicare has $3.2 trillion which is unfunded and social security has $13.4 trillion.
These troubled pension plans are suffering from overly optimistic promises which are impossible to fulfill within the current economic environment. To fund these promises, many of these plans are assuming more than a 7 percent average return per year on investments. With 30-year government bonds yielding less than 2.5 percent, it is impossible to achieve these high returns without assuming an unacceptable level of market risk.
Earthly treasures are uncertain. In this world, we have risky retirement funds, potential unemployment, flat and declining wages, technological obsolescence, the risks of global pandemics, crime and even social and/or military unrest. But in the kingdom, we have peace and security regardless of the environment. We are told to store up treasures in heaven.
"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroy and where thieves do not break in nor steal, for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also" (Matt. 6:19-21, MEV).
In addition to eternal life and heavenly treasures, our faithfulness will result in a blessed earthly life. Specifically, we are told to seek the kingdom of God first, and everything else will be added. We make deposits to our heavenly treasure chest and seek the kingdom of God by having faith, trust and confidence in our King and following His direction.
" ... For your heavenly Father knows that you have need of all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be given to you. Therefore, take no thought about tomorrow, for tomorrow will take thought about the things of itself. Sufficient to the day is the trouble thereof" (Matt. 6:32-34, MEV).
Kingdom promises are perfectly reliable and certain. The world has risky treasures. But regardless of the economic, social, political or military turmoil in this world, we have assurances. While on this earth, we can store up heavenly treasures which are secure. We can have an abundant life on this earth. Regardless of the economic, social, political, or military turmoil in this world, we have assurances from the King of kings. All of our needs will be met.
"The thief does not come, except to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly" (John 10:10, MEV).
"But my God shall supply your every need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus" (Phil. 4:19, MEV).
In and of themselves, things are not bad. It is the love of money that is the source of all kinds of evil. As long as we keep our focus on the kingdom and are faithful to our King, all is well.
Dr. James R. Russell is professor of economics and chair of the Undergraduate College of Business at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
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