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The Common Retirement Fund: 100 Years of Strength and Security

In 1921, NYSLRS’ pension fund held several million dollars and provided benefits to just a few dozen State employees. Today, the Common Retirement Fund (Fund) provides more than a billion dollars per month to hundreds of thousands of retirees and beneficiaries.

The System’s founders showed foresight in establishing the framework for a sustainable retirement system capable of providing long-term pension security for its members and retirees. Today, one hundred years later, we are considered one of the strongest public pension funds in the country, thanks in large part to the stewardship of Comptroller DiNapoli, trustee of the Common Retirement Fund and administrator of NYSLRS for the past 14 years.

Comptroller DiNapoli’s diligent efforts to maintain the financial well-being of the Fund, the fact that NYSLRS’ participating employers contribute their share into the Fund, and New York’s constitutional requirement that lifetime pension benefits be guaranteed to all NYSLRS retirees — all these elements combine to ensure that NYSLRS retirees will enjoy secure benefits for generations to come.

Common Retirement Fund - A Snapshot of Growth

Investments

The Common Retirement Fund has been widely recognized as one the best-funded and best-managed public pension fund’s in the nation. (In June 2020, the Pew Charitable Trusts ranked NYSLRS as the second-best-funded public retirement system in the nation, based on 2018 data.) The cornerstone of the Fund’s reputation is its sound investment policies. At the direction of Comptroller DiNapoli, Fund managers use a long-term investment strategy designed to take advantage of growth opportunities during good economic times, while helping the Fund weather economic downturns.

The Comptroller seeks the input of a wide range of internal and external advisors, consultants and legal counsel who help to determine the best investment choices and allocation of assets for the Fund. These advisors provide independent advice and oversight of all investment decisions, serve as part of the chain of approval on all investment decisions before they reach the Comptroller for final approval and participate on advisory committees that meet periodically throughout the year.

Fund assets are invested in a diversified portfolio. About 55 percent of the assets are invested in publicly traded stocks. Other investments include bonds, mortgages, real estate and private equity.

The Fund is also strengthened by a forward-looking approach to addressing climate change-related investment risks and capitalizing on the opportunities created by the transition to a low-carbon economy. Comptroller DiNapoli recognizes that climate change poses an enormous threat to the global economy and to the Fund’s investment portfolio. Recently, he announced plans to transition the Fund’s portfolio to net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2040. This process will include a review of investments in energy companies and, where consistent with his fiduciary responsibility to maintain the long-term financial health of the Fund for NYSLRS members, divestment of companies that don’t meet minimum standards. This policy will help ensure that the Fund adapts to a changing global economy and maintains its growth in coming decades.

The Common Retirement Fund’s Impact on New York Businesses

The Common Retirement Fund’s In-State Private Equity Program invests in new and expanding New York companies and makes capital available to qualifying small businesses. As of March 31, 2020, the Fund’s private equity portfolio included investments in over 330 New York businesses with a total value of $1.9 billion. These investments boost the State’s economy while at the same time generating significant returns for the Fund.

Looking Forward

As the Common Retirement Fund’s assets have grown over the years, so have its obligations. As of March 31, 2020, there were 487,407 NYSLRS retirees and beneficiaries, who were paid $13.4 billion in benefits over the previous year. That’s up from 67,689 retirees and beneficiaries, who were paid $194 million in benefits in 1971. Roughly a third of NYSLRS members are expected to retire over the coming decade.

Comptroller DiNapoli’s focus on continuing the Fund’s record of strong growth ensures that the Retirement System will be ready to meet the challenges of the future. The New York State Common Retirement Fund’s estimated return in the third quarter of State Fiscal Year 2020-21 was 10.01 percent for the three-month period ending December 31, 2020, and the Fund ended the quarter with an estimated value of $247.7 billion. More than 1.1 million NYSLRS members, retirees and beneficiaries can continue to rely on the Retirement System for their retirement security.

A Snapshot of NYSLRS Retirees

NYSLRS’ Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR), published each fall, has a wealth of information about the Retirement System. Much of it is technical, and it crunches a lot of numbers, but it’s also a good place to learn about NYSLRS retirees.

Here are a few tidbits from the latest edition, which includes data from the State fiscal year that ended March 31, 2020.

NYSLRS Retirees by the Numbers

NYSLRS was providing pension benefits to 487,407 retirees and beneficiaries as of the end of the fiscal year.

Nearly 79 percent of NYSLRS retirees and beneficiaries — some 384,286 — live right here in New York State, and they can be found in every county. Long Island is home to more than 60,000 retirees and beneficiaries, while more than 50,000 live in the Capital District.

Our retirees can also be found in every state. Florida, not surprisingly, is the number two choice — more than 38,000 call the Sunshine State home. North Dakota has the least, with only 21 retirees and beneficiaries. Another 639 live outside the United States.

Where NYSLRS Retirees Reside

NYSLRS Pensions at Work

In the last fiscal year, NYSLRS paid out $13.4 billion in benefits to retirees and beneficiaries, including $10.8 billion in New York State.

These retirees live in our communities, and their pension money flows right back into our neighborhoods. Retirees in New York pay local property and sales taxes, and their spending supports local businesses, stimulates the economy and generates thousands of jobs. Learn more.

An Award-Winning Publication

NYSLRS has received a Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting for the CAFR for the last 16 years. It’s a national award recognizing excellence in the preparation of state and local government financial reports.

To find out more about retirees, members and NYSLRS’ investments, check out the latest CAFR on our website.

A Look Inside NYSLRS

NYSLRS paid $13.4 billion in benefits to 487,407 retirees and beneficiaries during the State fiscal year that ended on March 31. These benefits are paid out through the New York State Common Retirement Fund (the Fund).

NYSLRS By the Numbers

NYSLRS Membership                                                           

But NYSLRS is more than just the pension fund. The system had 673,336 members as of March 31, including county workers, professional firefighters and State troopers. Here are some facts about our membership:

  • 530,547 active members (that is, members still on a public payroll) work for 2,962 public employers statewide.
  • One-third of those active members work for New York State. The rest work for counties, cities, towns, villages, school districts and public authorities.
  • Nearly 94 percent of active members are in the Employees’ Retirement System (ERS). The Police and Fire Retirement System (PFRS) accounts for 6 percent of NYSLRS membership.
  • More than 44 percent of all members are in Tier 6. Fifty-eight percent of PFRS members are in Tier 2 and almost 49 percent of ERS members are in Tiers 3 and 4.

NYSLRS Retirees and Beneficiaries

The average pension for an ERS retiree was $25,105; the average for a PFRS retiree was $54,684. But these pension payments don’t just benefit the system’s retirees and beneficiaries. Because 79 percent of NYSLRS retirees and beneficiaries live in New York, $10.8 billion worth of benefits stayed in the State. And that money supported local businesses, paid local taxes and generated economic development statewide.

An Award-Winning Publication

Extensive information about NYSLRS members and retirees, the Fund, and Fund investments can be found in the 2020 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR). NYSLRS once again received the Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting for the 2019 CAFR. The Certificate of Achievement is a national award recognizing excellence in the preparation of state and local government financial reports. NYSLRS has won this award for the last 16 years.