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Today’s Number: $13,680 a year

Wednesday, Dec 19, 2012

* One of the things I talked about in my City Club speech yesterday was the fact that the pension reform debate has been far too heavily dominated by people who blame the scammers for all the problems. All the major media outlets have run stories about how this or that person was able to scam a really sweet pension deal.

Lost in this debate, though, is the very hardcore fact that in many ways we’re talking about giving the shaft to little old ladies who depend on their monthly pension checks.

* So, I called the State Employees’ Retirement System today to ask a question: What’s the average pension of female state retirees age 80 and above?

The answer: $1,140 per month, which works out to an average annual retirement pension of $13,680.

Keep in mind that the General Assembly has also passed a law which allows the state to slash its subsidy of retiree health insurance premiums.

Also keep in mind that, according to SERS, quite a few, if not most of those women probably didn’t enroll in Social Security when they were working for the state. So, their pension check is all they have.

According to SERS, there are 4,790 such women currently drawing retirement pensions.

* Meanwhile, a coalition of labor unions has said its members will put more money into the pension systems in order to help preserve benefits for retirees

The group said it would be willing to put in 2 percent of their salaries, which equals about $350 million, toward their retirements - a percentage point higher than one proposal before legislators - and warned lawmakers to end borrowing to pay pension obligations.

“Public employees have said time and again that we are willing to do our part to aid in the stabilization of pension funding,” the report said. “We will only do so, however, if there is an ironclad guarantee that the state will fulfill its funding responsibilities.” […]

The group’s proposals for bringing in more revenue include closing tax loopholes, like reforming corporate tax expenditures and getting rid of some tax credits and incentives. The group cites several including repealing corporate tax breaks Quinn offered to CME Group Inc. and CBOE Holdings Inc. last year after they threatened to leave the state.

The coalition also called for a summit in January with lawmakers where unions could participate.

* Related…

* The Ghosts of Illinois Pensions Past

* Lawmakers making pension pitch - Rank-and-file members frustrated with process offer a bipartisan approach

* VIDEO: Lessons from Rhode Island: Gina Raimondo Talks Pension Reform

- Posted by Rich Miller        


40 Comments
  1. - M Smith - Wednesday, Dec 19, 12 @ 12:17 pm:

    Very pro-reform but I thought they were proposing tiers for the premiums & the cuts would not be for those with lower incomes. Agree with no social security $1,100 is not much. People over 80 likely were not ever aware of the problems pensions would be facing in 2012 & have no recourse.


  2. - wordslinger - Wednesday, Dec 19, 12 @ 12:26 pm:

    – One of the things I talked about in my City Club speech yesterday was the fact that the pension reform debate has been far too heavily dominated by people who blame the scammers for all the problems–

    That crew, the Tribbies and Ty’s Guys, have an agenda, which is to pull their own scams to weasel out of the state’s contractual responsibilities.

    The chosen way to do that is to play on everyone’s victimization complex; you’re getting, hosed, you shouldn’t be responsible.


  3. - Cook County Commoner - Wednesday, Dec 19, 12 @ 12:42 pm:

    No one is talking about shafting smaller pensions, at least I hope not. When my last employer went belly up, its pension plan was taken over by the federal Pension Benefit Guaranty Fund which paid pensions up to about $43,000.00 per year. We taxpayors may be willing to backstop government employee pensions up to a certain amount so long as the whole system is abolished. However, I will not back stop the Illinois State Legislator Pension to the tune of almost $25,000.00 per year being presently paid to US Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky and others like her.
    And now double dippers like Schakowsky want to lower the CPI on Social Security via a “chained” CPI while she likely enjoys a 3% COLA on the state pension she is currently receiving on top of a generous Congressional salary? Try and get an on the record comment from her on this.
    What’s galling to many is the cavalier approach of politicians to private sector retirement (lower Social Security, work longer, expect less in general) but the resistance to change the gold plated retirement security to the “new aristicracy” of federal, state and local governemt elected officials and employees nationwide.
    The most recent Illinois Department of Insurance report on the over 600 IL state, county and local government employee pensions shows over 1 million active retirees and vested employees in the state. And the number is growing.
    Better wake up out there folks. These entitlements will squeeze the remaing quality of life of life out of Illinois in a lot less time than the massaged numbers being fed to us indicate.


  4. - Rich Miller - Wednesday, Dec 19, 12 @ 12:46 pm:

    ===No one is talking about shafting smaller pensions===

    You must not be from here.

    Then again, you’re right, nobody wants to talk about it, but that’s still part of the overall plan.


  5. - Lil Squeezy - Wednesday, Dec 19, 12 @ 12:53 pm:

    $1,400 a month, more than $16,000 a year!!!? Seems excessive.

    There was a time in my life where it would have been impossible to say that, even as a joke. I just wasn’t brought up that way.

    To be fair, HB 6258 provides reductions to annuities in excess of $25,000 a year. And we can all agree $25,001 a year is excessive. I feel terrible.

    To be fair, we could pretend HB 6258 doesn’t really reduce many $25,000 annuities by that much and go after those people earning $35,000 annuities. Those people make me sick.


  6. - Ahoy! - Wednesday, Dec 19, 12 @ 12:54 pm:

    Is this the average for those who retired with a full pension? I’m always a little skeptical when averages are discussed since people who only worked a couple years would bring that number down. So my question is, what’s the average pension for someone who received a full pension or nearly full. It would be good to take the outliers at both the top and bottom and then get a good number. Surely this would be easy to do for the pension systems.

    And yes, Chicago millionaires should stop blaming public employees.


  7. - wert - Wednesday, Dec 19, 12 @ 12:55 pm:

    We need another constitutional amendment. One which forces the State to pay its share every year. They’ve ignored every other law. I wouldn’t give 2% more of may paycheck to people who have never lived up to a deal in the past.


  8. - geronimo - Wednesday, Dec 19, 12 @ 12:58 pm:

    Thank you Rich. Keep informing.


  9. - Plutocrat03 - Wednesday, Dec 19, 12 @ 1:04 pm:

    Don’t fall into the thicket of statistics. The median, (which is a better measure) is higher than the average. Another way to look at the data would be to ask what the average pension is for people retiring in 2011 and 2012. The annual payments are quite a bit higher now than 20 or 30 years ago.

    One thing that is lost in all the discussions is that the salaries of the oldest who are on pensions were really quite modest for the time they were working. That results in a small pension. As the salaries have risen to be on par with the private sector, the pensions being paid to today’s retirees is much higher.

    I would support a freeze on any benefit reductions for pensioners collecting a pension below some sort of threshold. 20-25K annual pension, adjusted for inflation. Fix the problem on the backs of the better off, not the lowest tier.


  10. - Rich Miller - Wednesday, Dec 19, 12 @ 1:05 pm:

    ===One thing that is lost in all the discussions is that the salaries of the oldest who are on pensions were really quite modest for the time they were working. That results in a small pension. As the salaries have risen to be on par with the private sector, the pensions being paid to today’s retirees is much higher.===

    I don’t disagree. In fact, that’s just what I said in my City Club speech.


  11. - Burnham the Monk - Wednesday, Dec 19, 12 @ 1:14 pm:

    ==
    Don’t fall into the thicket of statistics. The median, (which is a better measure) is higher than the average. Another way to look at the data would be to ask what the average pension is for people retiring in 2011 and 2012. ===

    So let me get this straight. You start off with a warning about statistics. In the second sentence you propose cherry picking the median (statistic) because it’s higher than the average (statistic). And in the third sentence — you nonetheless ask for an average (statistic) from 20 or 30 years ago.

    At this point, I stopped reading because I was thoroughly confused. However, when I resumed reading, you appeal to some anonymous entity that they (he? she? it?) freeze benefits for, oh, around (a completely arbitrary) data point of, well, let’s see … um, 20-25K? Based on what exactly? Averages? Medians? Your general sense of “Oh, that’s about right?”

    And then (finally?) you assume that these folks are “better off” (again — by some statistic? Some average? Some median? Some “insider” information?)

    This post demonstrates precisely why the pension debate continues to go nowhere fast.


  12. - zatoichi - Wednesday, Dec 19, 12 @ 1:15 pm:

    That $13,680 is very close to what my 88 year mother gets for her Social Security. None of my retired state friends earns over $35,000 even with over 30 years in. Much easier to generalize the big dollar accounts to all retirees because it sounds good until someone actually does the research.


  13. - Irish - Wednesday, Dec 19, 12 @ 1:27 pm:

    Thanks Rich, for bringing the other part of this to light.


  14. - Been There - Wednesday, Dec 19, 12 @ 1:41 pm:

    As much as everyone is dumping on the 3% COLA (myself included) it looks like these retirees receiving only $13,680 a year probably started off making just $5000-$6000 per year when they retired 25 years ago. While they have now doubled their pensions in total that isn’t even enough to get close to the poverty level.


  15. - Billy - Wednesday, Dec 19, 12 @ 1:44 pm:

    The unjust part of pension reform is trying take away from those who are retired and based their retirement decision on what they were promised by the state. They can not get their jobs back, and have no other recourse then to complain to their politicians and hope any unjust reform is found unconstitutional by the courts!


  16. - dupage dan - Wednesday, Dec 19, 12 @ 2:05 pm:

    Seems like the pension mess is off the front page for awhile. I’m sure the GA is working hard behind the scenes to effect a just solution. And the MSM will trot out the scammers just to gin up the circulation. Nothing new going on - move along.


  17. - wordslinger - Wednesday, Dec 19, 12 @ 2:19 pm:

    – And the MSM will trot out the scammers just to gin up the circulation.–

    I truly don’t think the Tribbies have kept that pot boiling for circulation reasons (if they have, man, it ain’t working).

    They are part of a corporate culture that saw in the economy’s hard fall (felt, by far, more by individuals than Big Business) and tough recovery an opportunity to shed some contractual obligations by appealing to fear and resentment.

    Tribune Co., like many other big corporations, stuck it to their employees by running and hiding in bankruptcy. The state doesn’t have that option, so the Tribbies cherry pick the scammers, ignore facts and history on pension obligations and hope to turn people against their neighbors and take away as much as promised as possible.


  18. - geronimo - Wednesday, Dec 19, 12 @ 3:03 pm:

    ==Tribbies cherry pick the scammers………==

    But, unfortunately, a whole lot of people are buying into their hysterical mythology. Having read some of their outrageous, inflated alarmist reports of massive pension payouts, I have to wonder who these people are? Know many many dozens of retirees, none of who come anywhere close to earning the pension amounts reported in the Trib as “average”.
    Who ARE these people?


  19. - Anonymous - Wednesday, Dec 19, 12 @ 3:20 pm:

    Thanks for making that point to the city club rich, as far as an iron clad guaranteed from the GA to make pension payments,the ONLY way they will make a guaranteed payment is to bond the whole pension debt. And as far as Elaine Nekritz theory that the supremes will rule in their favor because the state is in a financial crisis does not hold water as long as the state has the ability to raise revenue.Thats like telling the judge “well i cant afford the property taxes anymore can i still live here anyway”? Sorry.
    Jim Edgar said it best,your just going to have to pay them. The GA made their bed now they have to lay in it.


  20. - D.P. Gumby - Wednesday, Dec 19, 12 @ 3:33 pm:

    This is the same as DC wanting to cut social security to give tax cuts to the rich.


  21. - Very Old Soil - Wednesday, Dec 19, 12 @ 3:35 pm:

    The 2012 federal poverty level for a single person is $11,170.


  22. - Grandson of Man - Wednesday, Dec 19, 12 @ 3:35 pm:

    Thanks for getting and posting the average pension numbers on elderly female retirees. I didn’t know they were so low. I don’t recall what the average SERS retiree gets, compared to other state pension systems. It is because of such retirees that AFSCME and other unions have validity in their battles, and why they are not solely greedy and useless, like so many people say.

    I saw Anders Lindall from AFSCME and Ralph Martire on WTTW not long ago, and if I remember correctly, Mr. Lindall said that AFSCME is willing to make concessions as long as the pension is funded properly. I remember Mr. Martire saying that some of the Chicago Tribune’s ideas will or may have to be implemented or considered.

    I’m glad the unions are willing to offer something in a conciliatory spirit. I try to also look to the future, and though I can’t hazard a prediction about what will happen, I like the idea that offering concessions may buy us unionfolk political capital, and more people would look upon us more favorably.


  23. - Anyone Remember? - Wednesday, Dec 19, 12 @ 3:37 pm:

    As much as I’d like to see an agreement, don’t see it happening … UNLESS … the General Assembly will change its position and agrees to an ironclad enforcement mechanism to ensure pension contributions are made by the State when the employees do (just like the private sector). Given political history over the last 40 years, that mechanism would have to be in the Constitution, or it would be “BIMP’ed” every year. Look how long it took to get the State Police off the Road Fund - for over 10 years the requirement was “BIMP’ed” a year into the future.


  24. - Downstater - Wednesday, Dec 19, 12 @ 3:42 pm:

    =What’s the average pension of female state retirees age 80 and above=
    How many are their in the state of Illinois?
    More cherry picking of data to try and make point. Someone should publish a list of all the folks making over $100,000 a year in pensions and send the list to those little old ladies over 80. Maybe, they can contact them for some help.


  25. - Downstater - Wednesday, Dec 19, 12 @ 3:45 pm:

    If the majority of the union employees were really concerned about those 80 year olds making $13 thousand a year, you would have thought they would have bargained in their contracts to help them out!


  26. - anon for a reason - Wednesday, Dec 19, 12 @ 3:59 pm:

    Downstater,

    I think union talks about it.
    The people with the over 100K pensions are not Union unless they have some political sweet heart deal. The rank and file would agree to a payout per employee cap. The elected official do not want to talk about it.


  27. - western illinois - Wednesday, Dec 19, 12 @ 4:00 pm:

    They did get something for them in the contract -free health care for 20 years service.
    I have no problem with a deal to pay more BUT not if it helps Pat Quinn


  28. - Downstater - Wednesday, Dec 19, 12 @ 4:18 pm:

    =They did get something for them in the contract -free health care for 20 years service.=
    =Keep in mind that the General Assembly has also passed a law which allows the state to slash its subsidy of retiree health insurance premiums.=
    Which is it? Either they are getting free health care or they aren’t!


  29. - dupage dan - Wednesday, Dec 19, 12 @ 4:28 pm:

    word,

    Your account doesn’t differ much from mine, in a way. I meant, in a shorthand way, that the MSM, in general (and the Trib fits that mold), engaged in the type of reporting they did not necessarily so as to get to the truth of the matter but for bottom line reasons. Your sounds more Machiavellian than mine but I think as likely to be accurate. In any event, the issue is not being reported in a way to informs the public.

    Your statement on the circulation part is right on.


  30. - dupage dan - Wednesday, Dec 19, 12 @ 4:37 pm:

    Reading word’s post again I am struck by the thought that defined pensions are problematic for a reason discussed many times - the company/gov’t entity keeps the funds and controls same. When the s#!+ hits the fan and the company declares bankrupcy, the pension may go down with it. For folks who have a 401k, they are at the whim of the larger economy but not dependent on the health of one particular company. I am mostly out of my depth here - so can easily be called on it. However, I think the state pension could be better controlled if done outside the gov’t direct control. We, the beleaguered state employees make our mandated payments into a retirement account (monthly? quarterly?) - the state makes their, mandated payments (monthly, etc) and the state can’t delay the payment or call a pension holiday or withdraw any funds.

    To my uneducated eye seems foolproof.


  31. - Sgtstu - Wednesday, Dec 19, 12 @ 4:50 pm:

    I talked to a Afscme friend of mine this week. He has been informed that Quinn still wants current retires to pay $1,100.00 for healthcare. That leaves just this one group with $40.00 a month to live on. NO one can do that Quinn needs to get off people that are already retired !! This is the information from the last contract talks. which I believe were last week.


  32. - AC - Wednesday, Dec 19, 12 @ 5:01 pm:

    2% sounds like a reasonable sacrifice from people who didn’t cause the problem. I’d gladly contribute 4% if I kept rule of 85, and 3% or CPI COLAs, especially if they bonded some of the shortfall. Borrowing money at low rates and investment in the market would create an arbitrage situation for the state long term


  33. - steve schnorf - Wednesday, Dec 19, 12 @ 5:57 pm:

    Quite a few of the people Rich is talking about retired before the automatic annual 3% COLA for retirees.Back in the day, in looking at this very issue, I asked the systems how much it would cost to bring all those people’s pensions up to 85% of the purchasing power they had when they retired, and it really wasn’t much. It would be far less today because many more of them have passed on.


  34. - western illinois - Wednesday, Dec 19, 12 @ 5:59 pm:

    Steve That would be another benefit for an increased payment i am all for it


  35. - No emotion, just facts - Wednesday, Dec 19, 12 @ 6:13 pm:

    Random pension thoughts:

    -The Nekritz-Biss bill takes care of the 80 year-old grandma’s…the compounding COLA stays for the first 25k in pension.

    - The unions deserve credit for their willingness to give a 2 percent increase in salary…but the large menu of tax increases probably won’t fly, not after the largest income tax increase in state history 2 years ago. BTW, that increase brings in 7 billion in new revenue per year. How much will the state spend on pensions in FY 2013? 7 billion.

    - The compounding 3 percent COLA, which is untethered to CPI, is a relatively new instrument. It didn’t go into affect until the late 80’s, which means it was not “part of the deal” most current retirees signed up for. If one benefit has to be rolled back a bit, COLA is probably the right area to target. With the current 3 percent compounding formula, an individual pension’s value doubles in 23 years. Most retirees live 23 years or more after their retirement date….living that long was unheard of when the idea of a pension was first conceived and implemented a century ago, which is why we have to rethink the way benefits are accrued today.


  36. - unclesam - Wednesday, Dec 19, 12 @ 9:07 pm:

    I think it is more concerning that we have a Governor that states all of these critical issues MUST be resolved by early January, he won’t rest until they are resolved, but then leaves the country and leaves the negotiation and leadership to others to fix for him (granted, I know he’s going to visit the troops, and I fully support our troops and won’t question the Governor’s sincerity for our troops). IMO, that just seems to be a root cause of the current failure to get things done.


  37. - Small Town Liberal - Wednesday, Dec 19, 12 @ 11:56 pm:

    unclesam - The Governor is going on a self funded trip to visit our troops from Friday to Sunday. The GA is not in session, and it’s the weekend before Christmas. Criticizing this is just ridiculous.


  38. - Harry - Thursday, Dec 20, 12 @ 5:31 am:

    It’s not a huge amount of money, a few millions when we’re talking billions, but can anyone explain why part-timers get full, even generous pensions?

    I’m talking legislators. Other than they can pass laws to benefit themselves and so they do, what is the rationale for GARS or for Chicago aldermen to be in Muni, or for appointed/elected board members to get defined benefit pensions from the units of government they control?


  39. - Anon - Thursday, Dec 20, 12 @ 8:34 am:

    A few comments and clarifications:

    The overwhelming majority of SERS members receive Social Security or will be eligible for it.
    From the SERS COMPREHENSIVE ANNUAL FINANCIAL REPORT FOR THE FISCAL YEAR ENDED JUNE 30, 2009:

    Current Employees:
    Vested: Coordinated with Social Security 46,159
    Noncoordinated 2,052
    Nonvested: Coordinated with Social Security 16,606
    Noncoordinated 782

    That’s about 96%. And it makes sense:

    “Members are required to contribute a percentage of salary as their share of meeting the cost of the various benefits. Contribution rates are:
    A. Members Coordinated with Social Security:
    4% of salary
    B. Members Without Social Security:
    8% of salary
    Members coordinated with Social Security also pay the current Social Security tax rate.”

    In other words, for an additional contribution of 2.2% (10.2% vs. 8%), members can collect Social Security. For private-sector workers the contribution is 6.2% and for the self-employed it’s 12.4%.

    The comments by Cook County Commoner regarding private vs. public retirements are very relevant.

    Average Social Security benefit: approx. $15,000

    Average Illinois teacher pension: $50,000 (from the most recent TRS annual financial report summary, projected forward to the current fiscal year)

    Average starting teacher pension for teachers retiring in 2011 with at least 30 years of service: $66,699 (from Illinois Policy Institute)

    Yet there is talk in Washington of cutting Social Security — by changing the inflation calculation — which reinforces the view of many that, rather than being the party of the poor, the working class, or the middle class, Democrats are the party of the government class.


  40. - Say it ain't so! - Thursday, Dec 20, 12 @ 8:58 am:

    When you look at the data for teacher’s salaries, you should see that a large percentage of the teachers earning more than $100,000 per year are PE teachers. It does not require an advanced degree to be a PE teacher. The reason these schools are paying out such high salaries to PE teachers is because these are the ones that coach the school’s football and basketball teams. If you want to slow down the cost of pensions in schools, the schools have to stop paying such permiums to the football and basketball coaches (all other coaches too). There is no way that a PE teacher should be paid more than a science teacher with a master’s degree.


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        * Elgin cop fired after Facebook comment on police shooting
        * Woman pleads guilty in theft of agency client benefits cards
        * Autopsy: Man, 88, killed in South Side assault
        * Mother said son, 17, had texted her before being killed in Skokie
        * Pedestrian killed in Elk Grove Village


        * Aramark, CPS change plan to cut school janitors
        * 3,000 fewer students enroll in Chicago Public Schools
        * Meet Bishop Blase Cupich, Chicago's incoming archbishop
        * Cupich to be next Chicago archbishop
        * Mary Todd Lincoln And Spiritualism
        * Retirement Plan At Center Of Dispute In Ill. Treasurer's Race
        * Rehabbing vacant buildings, and the lives of those who fix them
        * Pensions: Vexing Illinois Politicians Since 1917
        * Mike Lawrence: The Compelling Challenge Of Rehabbing Illinois
        * Chicago Public Schools will get money for no-show students, again


        * Our Opinion: Job creation is a health priority in Sangamon County
        * GOP opposition to school funding bill irks Manar
        * Durbin, Oberweis debate background checks for guns
        * David McSweeney: Pension cost shift would lead to higher taxes
        * Bernard Schoenburg: Rauner campaign uses Michigan firm for calls
        * Election 2014: Simon, Topinka spar over transparency, ethics in comptroller’s race
        * Statehouse Insider: There are a lot of campaign ads, in case you haven’t noticed
        * Statehouse Insider: There are a lot of campaign ads, in case you haven’t noticed
        * Our Opinion: Another day, another embezzlement — but why?
        * Andy Shaw: Illinois voters deserve straight talk from Quinn, Rauner


        * Judge: No public defender for ex-Dixon comptroller
        * Sesser police, Mount Vernon children's home receive federal grants
        * Students' interests guide 'exploratory' classes
        * Road salt spending may double
        * Charges filed after man shot in arm
        * Jeff Hobbs: A testament to courage
        * Eldridge road to close for repairs
        * Gas leak forces closure of State Street in Bettendorf
        * Q-C region returns to fall
        * Marking a path for downtown


        * Music Notes: Former 'Idol' DeWyze plays suburban show
        * Dawn Patrol: Lombard man killed by wheel; Elgin cop fired over posts
        * Jews observe High Holy Days in Catholic church
        * Des Plaines plans to spend more, but not raise taxes
        * Metropolis' total village funding could exceed $5 million

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        * Examine Out This Wonderful School Tips These days!
        * Left-wing student event protests Rauner, embraces Quinn
        * How to Solve America's Debt Problem [video]
        * The Hunger Game
        * Dairy Queen Vs. Sandwich, Illinois
        * Sharpton Confronted Over FBI “Snitching” at the Congressional Black Caucus Confab
        * Whittle: Loch Ness Socialism [video]
        * Obama security allowed intruder farther into White House than previously admitted
        * Tribune: Hyde Park's retail revival is on a roll
        * Business First Fridays at Flecks Coffee


        * Rauner hits Quinn on tax hike timing
        * Taxpayer Red Alert: Quinn Doubles Down on Lame Duck Tax Hike
        * Fact Check: Pat Quinn’s Most Desperate False Attack Yet
        * Rauner to Madigan: No lame duck tax hike after I win
        * Governor Quinn and Uber Announce Major Chicago Headquarters Expansion - Innovative Ridesharing Company to Add 420 Jobs by End of 2016




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