Sunday, November 30, 2008

Pensions and Social Security

According to the Denver Post, officials for PERA (Colorado's public employee's retirement fund) are discovering conditions are worse than imagined and "face steep legal, political and financial hurdles in climbing out of the $12 billion funding hole that chaotic markets dug for the state's largest public pension plan." Because I taught abroad for five years after college, as well as five years in Illinois and a year in parochial schools, I will be unable to take full retirement from PERA until I'm sixty-two, and that seems perfectly reasonable to me. I have long been shocked, or at least unnerved, by public employees retiring with full benefits in their early fifties. Clearly, there are components of the system that few outside of the system understand, such as the fact that teachers and public employees don't pay into Social Security, so they will never draw it.  Additionally, many are paid below free market value.  However, none of these conditions counters the reality of the insolvency of the system.  To be perfectly honest, I find the situation to be ridiculous, and the criticism the criticism the system receives is entirely justified.

The answer to budget shortfalls has always been obvious - increase the age minimum and decrease benefits. Social Security has and should operate on the same principle - especially since the initial retirement age of 62 was set when the average American lived until 66, and health care costs were incredibly low. Social Security was never meant to fully fund a middle class retirement, certainly not for twenty-plus years. It was supposed to supplement retirement savings and simply keep seniors above the poverty line. PERA and all pensions should operate on the same principle, making people aware they should fund their own retirement with the knowledge that PERA/SS will keep them out of poverty.

A little self-reliance, backed by a reasonable safety net, is the most American of ideals, and public workers and politicians need to acknowledge that immediately for the sake of the entire system

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