According to government union leaders, their employee retirement benefits are “not lavish by any means.” So says Art Pulaski of the California Labor Federation. According to the American Federation of Teachers, public-employee pensions “typically are modest.” And the Service Employees International Union asserts that “After decades of full-time work for the state, the sad truth is that far too many retired state employees receive yearly amounts that force them to live in poverty.”
These claims are misleading, but reformers have a hard time conveying to taxpayers precisely how generous public-sector retirement benefits can be. That’s because government employees typically have “defined benefit” pensions that pay a guaranteed benefit regardless of how the plan’s investments may fare. Most private-sector workers hold “defined contribution” 401(k)-type savings accounts that guarantee no specific pension. Complex formulas obscure the fact that public pensions typically are much more generous than 401(k)s, making the situation ripe for misleading claims.
A case in point is the Illinois Teachers Retirement System (TRS), which insists that, because Illinois teachers don’t participate in Social Security, the average teacher’s pension of almost $43,000 “cannot qualify as ‘too generous.'” One might assume from such a statement that the typical Illinois teacher who retires this year after a full career will collect $43,000 per year. Not so. That average figure reflects the pensions of employees who retired years or decades ago, as well as individuals who worked only part of their careers in public schools. Read full report on AEI>>>