Public Employee Pensions Are Great . . . Except When They Aren’t
When people hear the word “pension,” they often think “retirement security.” That is the idea of a public employee pension system, to ensure that public sector workers, such as teachers, have a safe, secure retirement. Missouri has three of these systems for teachers and they are great . . . except when they aren’t. To understand what I mean, look at the two figures below.
Missouri’s teacher pension systems are back-loaded. That is, teachers accrue much of their pension wealth toward the end of their careers. Unfortunately, very few teachers in Saint Louis and Kansas City ever reach this point. The figures above come from a recent report that the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation issued. Today, Dane Stangler and Aaron North, from the Kauffman Foundation, have an op-ed in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. They wrote:
Because most of the pension value accrues in the final years of an educator’s career, the typical new teacher in Kansas City or St. Louis does not benefit from the current system. Based on our research, we estimate the likelihood that a traditional public school teacher in St. Louis stays in the profession long enough to earn the maximum pension benefit to be about 4 percent. In other words, 96 percent of teachers in St. Louis will leave prior to reaching the full benefit and the percentage is comparable in Kansas City (approximately 3 percent).
That is just one of the problems with Missouri’s current teacher pension systems. As I have written before, the separate pension systems for Saint Louis and Kansas City put the urban districts at a disadvantage. Stangler and North pointed out:
There is no reciprocity between the plans, so if a teacher begins her career in Springfield and leaves for a position in Kansas City or St. Louis, she will lose much of the pension wealth she had earned by either forgoing the employer contributions or having the value of her pension frozen at the time she quits.
Missouri’s teacher pensions are great for teachers who stay for 25 to 30 years in a single pension system. For teachers who work less or more than that time in a single pension system, the current system is not so great. Indeed, those teachers are subsidizing the retirement of others.
More importantly, these systems are not good for kids in Saint Louis and Kansas City because they act as a barrier to recruiting veteran teachers to the cities.