Pension Dollars Keep Rural Communities Alive

Driving along the interstates throughout North Carolina you can see the growing skylines of the cities and construction of new business. It’s not until you start driving down the smaller state maintained highways that you start to come into the more than 450 towns within our state with populations fewer than 10,000. Towns that aren’t nearly as prosperous as their neighbors on the interstates. These are the towns with the shrinking populations.

“National economic trends coupled with population declines have had a devasting impact on many small towns and rural areas across America. Often, the largest employer in these smaller towns is a public entity like a school system or municipality that employs teachers, nurses, firefighters, and public safety officials. These public employees spend their career serving their communities at a time when a growing number of young workers are leaving their hometowns for job opportunities in urban areas,” said Dan Doonan, National Institute on Retirement Security executive director.

These are the town that are more dependent on the incomes of its residents than on the tax revenues brought in from major corporations and big developments. These are the towns where the residents that worked there for the community are more likely to retire there. And these are the towns where their public pension benefits go beyond the retirees and their families. Their benefit dollars also play a critical role in supporting the local economies.

Retired public employees spend their pension income in their towns on goods and services like housing, food, medicine and clothing, which serves as a stable source of economic activity in smaller communities

Dan Doonan, NIRS executive director

Research by the NIRS revealed that, in absolute terms, the greatest number of public pension recipients and, therefore, public pension benefit dollars, reside in big cities. But because the economies in the cities are large and complex, the economic impact of pension benefit dollars is modest. However, in small towns and rural areas where the economies are more dependent on the income of its residents, the economic impact of pension benefit dollars goes farther.

The NIRS examined the economic impact of public pension benefit dollars at the county level in 2,922 counties across 43 states representing every region of the country. North Carolina was one of the seven states that was not included in the research.

The analysis of the data reveals that pension benefit dollars account for an average of 1.2% of gross domestic product (GDP) in those counties. NIRS believes this is because many rural areas have agriculture-dependent economies. Farms often are described as “asset rich, but cash poor.” This means that the value of the land, equipment, and goods produced is high, but the monthly cash income of the farmers is relatively low. Therefore, the pension benefit dollars in these counties represent a greater portion of personal income than GDP.

Likewise, the benefit dollars make up an average of 1.25% of the total personal income in the counties. Therefore, GDP and total personal income derived by pensions are why these communities experienced the greatest relative economic benefit from public pension benefit dollars.

“Eventually, public employees in rural and smaller communities retire and typically stay in their hometown. Retired public employees spend their pension income in their towns on goods and services like housing, food, medicine and clothing, which serves as a stable source of economic activity in smaller communities. Our analysis clearly indicates that pension spending provides a substantial economic impact on struggling small towns and rural communities across the nation,” Doonan explained.

The NRIS analysis reveals two interesting effects taking place in rural counties concerning pension benefits. Pension benefit dollars provide metropolitan and rural counties similar levels of GDP, but rural areas have a greater percentage of personal income from pension dollars.

Additionally, the conversation about public pensions should not focus solely on the dollars contributed to the plans, it also must acknowledge substantial economic impact they have across the state, especially in the rural areas.

Giving Back Without Getting Scammed

By Attorney General Josh Stein

As we approach the holidays, people are at their most generous. We spend time with loved ones, buy gifts for each other, and strengthen our communities through charitable donations. Unfortunately, scammers know this, and they come out of the woodwork to try to take advantage of people’s generosity. Take precautions to make sure your donations go where you want and not to line some scammer’s pocket.

Before you give, do your research on the charity or organization. It’s a good idea to donate to charities that you are personally familiar with or that operate visibly in your community. If researching online, double check that the charity’s URL is legitimate by looking for a lock icon and an “https:” in the address bar. Copycat websites and apps will resemble a business’s brand name closely or have a URL that is similar to the real thing.

Don’t respond to unsolicited emails, text messages, and social media posts asking you to give. Although the cause may sound worthy of your hard-earned money, taking the time to verify an organization’s legitimacy is worth it.

Be careful of calls from charity fundraisers. Some telemarketers keep up to 90% of the money they collect for charities. Your money will go further if you give directly to the real charity, not to hired fundraisers. Also, scammers will often try to pressure you into donating. Remember that legitimate fundraisers will not push you to make a donation immediately.

If you are unsure whether a charity is the real deal, you can call my office’s Consumer Protection Division at 1-877-5-NO-SCAM to check whether the charity has complaints against it, or you can call the North Carolina Secretary of State’s office to check its license. You can also research a charity’s ratings and history using resources including the Better Business Bureau’s (BBB) Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Navigator, Charity Watch, or GuideStar.

Once you have chosen and verified a charity, it is best to pay by credit card for security and tax purposes. If you decide to pay by check, always make it out to the charity and not an individual.

For more information on common charity scams and how to avoid them, visit And if you think you or someone you know has been the victim of a scam, file a complaint with my office’s Consumer Protection Division at complaint or by phone at 1-877-5-NO-SCAM. The holiday season is a special time of year, and I hope this season brings joy to you and your loved ones.

NCRGEA Update: Statement on Lake Case, October 2022

Raleigh, October 20, 2022 — Tim O’Connell, Executive Director of the North Carolina Retired Governmental Employees’ Association, announced today that the United States Supreme Court has denied the Petition filed by the State of North Carolina seeking review of the North Carolina Supreme Court decision affirming a partial judgment in favor of retired State employees seeking promised health care benefits.

This past March, the NC Supreme Court ruled that a vested State retiree is contractually entitled to the same retiree health care benefits that were in place at the time they vested. The NC Supreme Court ruling sends the case back to the North Carolina Superior Court for a determination of whether the State’s actions in reducing benefits was a material breach of the contract and if so, a determination of damages.

“It is time for this case to be resolved,” O’Connell stated. “Our retirees have been waiting over ten years to receive the benefits the State promised them when they became employed. I urge the State to stop delaying and do the right thing for these retirees who relied on the State’s promises.”

The case was filed in Gaston Superior Court in 2012 after the North Carolina General Assembly reduced the benefits retirees would receive in the nonpremium contributory plan. The Superior Court granted a partial summary judgment for the retirees and reserved ruling on the amount of damages.

“This case has been up and down in the trial court and appellate courts for almost 11 years,” stated Chris Whelchel of the Gastonia law firm Gray, Layton, Kersh, Solomon, Furr and Smith, one of counsel for the retirees. “We are prepared to move on with this case to make sure these retirees receive what the courts have said they deserve. Many of the 220,000 retirees affected by this case have died waiting for justice to be served.”

The NCRGEA is a statewide organization with over 60,000 state and local government retirees. It represents the more than 340,000 state and local government retirees.