Costs are rising even in places that previously acted to defuse the problem. Colorado trimmed pensions in 2010, but a new $32 billion shortfall means more pension cuts and tax increases are likely. Detroit sliced its pension obligations in bankruptcy and persuaded philanthropists to chip in, but it is not clear that the city has an affordable plan.

In San Francisco, the school board wants voters to approve a $298 “parcel tax” on real estate, ostensibly to raise $50 million to pay teachers a living wage.

“That’s a worthy objective, but it’s not the real reason,” said David Crane, a former trustee of the California teachers’ pension system. He said the school district’s retirement costs had grown by $50 million over the last five years, devouring resources that would have gone to teachers.