We Didn’t Cause the Pension Problem

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A lot of finger-pointing is going on in Illinois over the notoriously under-funded pension funds.  Just to set the record straight:

I didn’t go into teaching for the pension.  I don’t know anyone who went into teaching because they were going to get a good pension 37 years later.  We did it because we loved teaching kids.  I’ll bet $100 no kid right out college said, during an interview for their first teaching job, “So, tell me about the pension system.”

I didn’t go into teaching for the money.  I don’t know anyone who went into teaching because they wanted to make a lot of money.  My wife and I moved to Chicago in 1975 because this was the place where I found a teaching job.  I started at $11,500 per year.  I drove a school bus before and after school to help make ends meet.

The constitutional amendment guaranteeing state employee’s pensions went into effect in 1970.  Years before 99.9% of all the current educators began their career.  It wasn’t their idea to guarantee pension benefits – why is it a bad idea to do so now?

All educators paid 8% of what they were being compensated to TRS until 1999.  Then we paid 9% to TRS.  In 2005 we paid 9.4%.  Over the course of my career I paid over $300,000 into the pension system.  Using TRS’s reported investment returns, when I retired in 2012 my pension nest egg should have been about $716,000.  That’s without including any contributions from the state, which were inconsistent and underfunded.  All educators have paid what they owed.  We were not allowed to participate in Social Security.  Unless we put some of our salaries into a 403(b) account, this is all we have.

TRS states that our pension fund has $61.6 billion in unfunded liabilities – two-thirds of which is attributable to the state not paying what was needed to keep the pension fund solvent.

I get defensive when the media or people around me point their finger at teachers and accuse us of doing something dastardly.  We found a job that we loved.  We worked hard.  We paid our (TRS) dues each and every paycheck.  We worked under the assumption that the Illinois constitution protected our pension.  Why are we always cast as the bad guys?