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Old 03-05-2009, 07:56 PM   #61
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I thought that was the main point of my post. If you want to hire and retain the right people you have to pay. And compensation includes benefits and pension rights.
I agree that that was the main point of your post. I just think the way you percieve pay vs performance is wrong. Performance must be dictated by standards. Then, after that is established, pay must be adequate to recruit and retain employees willing and able to work at or above those standards. It's a subtle but key difference.

When you increase pay levels of an existing work force without increasing the documented standards, you simply wind up with the same work force now receiving higher pay.

edit: BTW, I'm refering to performance standards as well as hiring standards.
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Old 03-05-2009, 09:13 PM   #62
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I'm thinking that there is another factor in this also. That is, people put a higher value on a buck today than they do a future buck (as they should), but people probably undervalue that future buck (pension, health care, etc).

So, maybe some public job pays less than the private equivalent and that is offset by the promise of a better retirement package. But if the average person undervalues that future package, then the govt is going to have to over-pay for todays wages to make it all seem like a match to the average person today.

That would just be tendency I think, clearly a million details and specifics. But I'm pretty sure that was my thinking when I started out in the corporate world. I had this vague sense that govt positions had better retirement packages, but it wasn't until recently that I could actually think in terms of the value of those packages.

And I certainly don't begrudge anyone those benefits, it was all part of the deal and open to me also. But I do admit that I get a little antsy thinking about how those better pensions are so much more secure against a poor economy. I accept that my retirement package is smaller than govt employees, but it was a promise, some of it backed by the govt, so why should it be any less secure? I guess it's the bigger AND more secure that is gnawing at me just a bit.

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Old 03-05-2009, 09:17 PM   #63
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It's complicated with many variables but I'm giving it a shot.


An Electrical Engineer C at my city water utility makes a median $72,000/yr.

An EE III in my region makes about $84,000/yr.

The city engineer puts in 7.5% into the pension, which makes her pay ~67,000. The private employee can then put in 17,000 into a 401k, and they'll have the "same" pay.

The city engineer can retire after 23 years of service. Let's say they started right after college, so ER is possible at 45. The public employee also gets basic medical and dental plans.

A 45 yo public engineer retiring this year, at the above salary, would receive $48096/month (with survivor benefit).


Q: Can the private engineer retire after 23 years of saving $17,000 and have a safe WD of $48096?

The private engineer would need $1.2MM, at a WD rate of 4% (risky, in today's climate).

Given a 10% return, the private engineer would have $1.129 million at age 45. That's not too far off the public engineer but there are two factors to consider:

1) Risk. The public engineer takes little risk yet receives $48096. A private engineer can lose 25% the year before she retires, thus delaying ER by potentially years.

2) Medical benefits. This, depending on the health of the recipient, can be a huge benefit.


Conclusion: The public engineer has the edge, especially when factoring in health and dental care.

Eridanus-

I appreciate you trying to put real numbers on this, but I must ask...
Where do you live that an engineer can retire with a pension equal
to 2/3 salary after 23 yrs well before age 50 (so no minimum age?), and get health benefits?

I live and work in the county with the highest median household income
in the country and we don't have anything close to that good
even for our public safety retirees...

I read up quite a bit on pension plans for union work, and I have noticed
that water authorities do extremely well. Is this 23 yr plan limited to the water authority employees? They have an advantage on everyone in that
you know they're never going to run out of customers or money.....

Thanks for your time,
LB
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Old 03-06-2009, 12:53 AM   #64
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For one thing, I'm 43 and doubt I'd get hired -- some of these positions seem to have age restrictions on new hires (at least the military and public safety positions do). And other than those, which are still open in some places, and things that require specific training like health care, the competition I've seen for most public sector jobs is fierce. People are putting more of a value on job security, retirement benefits and health insurance than ever.
The subject of maximum age requirements came up in another forum I frequent and I looked at my old employer's website and found that they've adjusted the maximum age requirement. You're still within the hiring range. You just have to graduate the academy before you turn 45. Salary is $43K to start, up to a maximum of $70K without a promotion, or up to $110K annual if you are promoted. Plus $10K in overtime a year on average.

Don't worry about training, they provide a 6-month academy that they pay for, and they also pay you full salary from day 1.

Oh, and there's a decent pension. Not as good as mine was, but still pretty good.

Houston Police Department Recruiting

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Old 03-06-2009, 08:21 AM   #65
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It is obvious that everyone cannot work for the government. Oh yeah, we can - in North Korea.

Defined benefit pension systems were created on the basis of a pyramid with a small retiree base at the top and a large worker base at the bottom. That case is rapidly becoming untrue. Funding the increasingly large retiree base is being shouldered on a comparatively smaller worker base, increasing the need for individual contribution. At the same time, the private sector, whose retirements are largely funded through individual personal savings in various vehicles, have seen their own retirement assets decimated.

Its not a matter of who deserves what. Its a matter of simple mathematics. We are operating under an unsustainable system. The result of continuing in this fashion is that the system will catosptrophically fail when the horse dies, the fed will inflate away the value of pensions, or we will be faced with a tax revolt, either through explicit action or through (more likely, as occurs in many other countries) blatant tax avoidance.

One has to question a system in which a person saves their entire life, and through unlucky timing must work until he is 75 while the teacher next door retires comfortably at 55 without saving a nickel.

To illustrate just such a point, my finacee's father is now back to work after his second retirement. In the course of saving for retirement, he lost a large chunk in the S&L scandal of the 1980's, lost have in the tech bubble, and lost 30% of what remained. He also had to take out a sizable mortgage on his paid-off house to accomodate his newly disabled son. He's now 73, draws social security, modest income from his IRA which is worth one third of what it once did, and works part time as a radiographer in a hospital.
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Old 03-06-2009, 08:24 AM   #66
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Its not a matter of who deserves what. Its a matter of simple mathematics. We are operating under an unsustainable system. The result of continuing in this fashion is that the system will catosptrophically fail when the horse dies, the fed will inflate away the value of pensions, or we will be faced with a tax revolt, either through explicit action or through (more likely, as occurs in many other countries) blatant tax avoidance.
But line for people stepping up to take a hit is short...
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Old 03-06-2009, 08:32 AM   #67
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But line for people stepping up to take a hit is short...
there are more people willing to cut pensions who will vote than people collecting public pensions. at some point people will say enough and will demand no more tax increases
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Old 03-06-2009, 08:46 AM   #68
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The following numbers are for 50% survivor on defined benefit.

My husband works for a state government, will retire in Sept., and I just computed his retirement as a percent of high three. (This was easy as he has not received a raise in his last three years). His pension is 23% of his high three. His plan does have a 401k type account but he doesn't get a match. Prior to a couple of years ago, the state contributed $10/two weeks, now $0. The wage structure for jobs like his (Dept.Labor) in the state's private sector is about 20% above his in the same state for the same experience in similar occupations (hard to estimate). Not all states are equal. Of course, this is close to home, but it strikes me that he has earned it after a career with a state, retirement at 63 years of age, a hit on salary potential on the outside (if real - it was hard to estimate), no match (total over career worth less than $2000 right now), etc. His "big" medical benefit (not) becomes a Medicare advantage plan at 65.

I'm FERS. If I were to retire when he does (original plan), I would get 20% of high three. My 401k match 5%. According to data collected by my professional society, my current pay (including DC area locality) is under the NATIONAL average for my career path and years experience by 13%. Since DC locality is over 10%, it is probably much, much more for the locality.

Both get SS. But my point is that as far as the defined pension portion goes we, as a family, get a little over 20% with two government jobs and neither of us is retiring at a young age or with only a short stay.

I wonder if we can get the numbers for all state ordinary workers without inflation by high paid administrators and special category/high risk employees. Is this just a few states or most states? Also, when we talk about "responsible" plans, aren't we talking about plans that buy things the taxpayer pays? So if the plans owning risky investments would have been in the federal securities and state and municipal coffers anyway? The more a plan is conservative, the more it invests in government debt to be paid back by future workers.
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Old 03-06-2009, 08:57 AM   #69
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It is obvious that everyone cannot work for the government. Oh yeah, we can - in North Korea.

Defined benefit pension systems were created on the basis of a pyramid with a small retiree base at the top and a large worker base at the bottom. That case is rapidly becoming untrue. Funding the increasingly large retiree base is being shouldered on a comparatively smaller worker base, increasing the need for individual contribution. At the same time, the private sector, whose retirements are largely funded through individual personal savings in various vehicles, have seen their own retirement assets decimated.

Its not a matter of who deserves what. Its a matter of simple mathematics. We are operating under an unsustainable system. The result of continuing in this fashion is that the system will catosptrophically fail when the horse dies, the fed will inflate away the value of pensions, or we will be faced with a tax revolt, either through explicit action or through (more likely, as occurs in many other countries) blatant tax avoidance.

One has to question a system in which a person saves their entire life, and through unlucky timing must work until he is 75 while the teacher next door retires comfortably at 55 without saving a nickel.

To illustrate just such a point, my finacee's father is now back to work after his second retirement. In the course of saving for retirement, he lost a large chunk in the S&L scandal of the 1980's, lost have in the tech bubble, and lost 30% of what remained. He also had to take out a sizable mortgage on his paid-off house to accomodate his newly disabled son. He's now 73, draws social security, modest income from his IRA which is worth one third of what it once did, and works part time as a radiographer in a hospital.
What it tells me is that investment retirement accounts alone do not work. Perhaps retirement ages should reward handsomely for working longer. I would rather work until I was 70 than to face the possibility of a sudden event causing me to need to go back to work at 80. Also, the one time medical disaster at the wrong timing is exactly the problem with our retirement system overall. Annuities are better but private annuities are risky over a long retirement and are costly.

So people need to face real solutions going forth. The past is sealed in concrete. In my mind, this is exactly what is wrong with this yours verses mine mentality. If the markets continued to boom, this conversation would be exactly opposite to what it is today. The "my own account" guys would be bragging how their "personal responsibility" led to a better life and the government pension guys in conservative investment plans would be wishing their plan had invested like CALPERS.
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Old 03-06-2009, 09:03 AM   #70
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Tad, you made two very good points: a reasonable DB rate and a reasonable retirement age.

As I've implied before, I think the FERS model is one which is somewhat reasonable, provided a reasonable retirement age is required. A guaranteed 20-23% DB is not our of the realm of reason, and could be compated to a Defined Contribution worker's purchase of an SPIA. As others have intimated before, one cannot simply compare straight salary to private industry, nor can one assume a 401k match or low cost funds (such as you have available in the TSP).

To avoid overcomplication (and because I don't want to do the homework), lets make an assumption that your husband receive a non-COLA'd DB pernsion of 23% of an income of $70,000/yr. For a privately employed individual to effectively buy that pension guarantee woule require him to buy an annuity of $200,000 at today's rates. The difference is that in the latter case, he would have had to save $200k over the course of his career, whereas your husband did not. That $200k (which, depending on investments and market conditions, could have actually costs him more or less than $200k) must be accounted for in the calculations of the difference in public and private employment.
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Old 03-06-2009, 09:04 AM   #71
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That tells me your finacees fathers investment accounts werent diversified properly. It sounds like he was chasing returns if he lost such a large chunk in all these bubbles.
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Old 03-06-2009, 09:09 AM   #72
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For those of you who have not done so, I would highly recommend Laurence J. Kotlikoff and Scott Burns "The Coming Generational Storm", available in your local library. It is perhaps the most well considered discussion of the defined benefit problem that I have encountered.

For those who believe in the sanctity of pensions aleady promised, I would be careful. While the baby boomers are the largest voting block in the country, that will not always remain true. The past 50 years have seen two generations throw all succeeding ones under the bus. Those who wish to live well in their retirement at the expense of those struggling during their working lives should consider the possiblities of what that sort of generational inequity could bring.
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Old 03-06-2009, 09:10 AM   #73
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Tad, you made two very good points: a reasonable DB rate and a reasonable retirement age.

As I've implied before, I think the FERS model is one which is somewhat reasonable, provided a reasonable retirement age is required. A guaranteed 20-23% DB is not our of the realm of reason, and could be compated to a Defined Contribution worker's purchase of an SPIA. As others have intimated before, one cannot simply compare straight salary to private industry, nor can one assume a 401k match or low cost funds (such as you have available in the TSP).

To avoid overcomplication (and because I don't want to do the homework), lets make an assumption that your husband receive a non-COLA'd DB pernsion of 23% of an income of $70,000/yr. For a privately employed individual to effectively buy that pension guarantee woule require him to buy an annuity of $200,000 at today's rates. The difference is that in the latter case, he would have had to save $200k over the course of his career, whereas your husband did not. That $200k (which, depending on investments and market conditions, could have actually costs him more or less than $200k) must be accounted for in the calculations of the difference in public and private employment.
You have no idea how much of his salary her husband had to contribute out of each check and how much that wouldve added up to over his career.

Youre also not accounting for the fact that when a person saves $200,000 and draws off of that amount during retirement, his heirs keeps that money when he dies (assuming he didnt buy an annuity which I wouldnt do). The person with a pension may getr a higher pension check but when he dies, thats the end of it in alot of cases. His wife may get something but when she dies its gone for good. If invested and handled correctly, that $200,000 saved is going to pay out much much more over several lifetimes than a pension will. (obviously that wont help the person who earned the money though).
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Old 03-06-2009, 09:10 AM   #74
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utrechty, he made the mistake of listening to his financial advisors. Like many other people in his position, he not only did not receive proper financial advice, he fell victim to four bubbles and the greedy predations of brokers.
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Old 03-06-2009, 09:25 AM   #75
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Actually, when one buys a SPIA, he or she gives up that money in exchange for guarenteed income. The intention of my post was to highlight what appeared to be a reasonable public pension in tadpole's case, and that for a private individual to purchase that same guaranteed pension would require a certain lump sum in cash.

We can also look at Tadpole's case itself. She is under the FERS system, which relies on the three legged stool of SS, DB, and DC. It also specifies some reasonable retirement ages (some of which should probably be adjusted). The SS portion is no different than that of most other workers. The DC correlates to a well run 401k, and the DB is 20% of her final salary. The last portion - the DB - is funded not by her own contributions but by taxpayer dollars. It can best be viewed as part of her compensation and computed somehow into her actual salary as compared a worker with no DB portion. That worker would have to buy the DB portion upon his or her retirement to offer the baseline pension that Tadpole will enjoy.

There are several points to consider:

1. They are retiring in their sixties, not in their forties or fifties.
2. The DB portion of their pensions are 20-23%, not 50-75% that are enjoyed by many other workers.
3. They are aware that the DB portion cannot represent the only source of retirement income.
4. Health insurance is not included as fully-paid benefit. The average cost of health insurance for an individual is $5,200/yr, and $13,600/yr for a family. Taking the more conservative route, the present cash value of free health insurance for a person in his 50's can be huge.
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Old 03-06-2009, 09:49 AM   #76
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The following numbers are for 50% survivor on defined benefit.

My husband works for a state government, will retire in Sept., and I just computed his retirement as a percent of high three. (This was easy as he has not received a raise in his last three years). His pension is 23% of his high three. His plan does have a 401k type account but he doesn't get a match. Prior to a couple of years ago, the state contributed $10/two weeks, now $0. The wage structure for jobs like his (Dept.Labor) in the state's private sector is about 20% above his in the same state for the same experience in similar occupations (hard to estimate). Not all states are equal. Of course, this is close to home, but it strikes me that he has earned it after a career with a state, retirement at 63 years of age, a hit on salary potential on the outside (if real - it was hard to estimate), no match (total over career worth less than $2000 right now), etc. His "big" medical benefit (not) becomes a Medicare advantage plan at 65.

I'm FERS. If I were to retire when he does (original plan), I would get 20% of high three. My 401k match 5%. According to data collected by my professional society, my current pay (including DC area locality) is under the NATIONAL average for my career path and years experience by 13%. Since DC locality is over 10%, it is probably much, much more for the locality.

Both get SS. But my point is that as far as the defined pension portion goes we, as a family, get a little over 20% with two government jobs and neither of us is retiring at a young age or with only a short stay.

I wonder if we can get the numbers for all state ordinary workers without inflation by high paid administrators and special category/high risk employees. Is this just a few states or most states? Also, when we talk about "responsible" plans, aren't we talking about plans that buy things the taxpayer pays? So if the plans owning risky investments would have been in the federal securities and state and municipal coffers anyway? The more a plan is conservative, the more it invests in government debt to be paid back by future workers.
the retirement check assumes your home is paid off and you have no expenses other than normal living expenses and an extra vacation or two

if you assume a dual government employee couple made $100,000 at retirement and a $20,000 a year retirement check plus SS then it's more than enough money to live very comfortably
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Old 03-06-2009, 09:58 AM   #77
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"if you assume a dual government employee couple made $100,000 at retirement and a $20,000 a year retirement check plus SS then it's more than enough money to live very comfortably"

We can assume a total income of $55k, which is reasonable. But property taxes in suburban areas can eat you alive (around here taxes on a modest home can easily exceed $7,000) and presciption medication can get enormously expensive.

But your assertion bears merit - you described "comfortable" in a manner with which I would agree, but which many Americans would not.
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Old 03-06-2009, 10:00 AM   #78
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I think it goes deeper than that.

Many (and I qualify this with a BIG not everyone) in the public sector have an entitlement mentality with regard to pensions - what are you going to do for me?

Most (and I qualify this with a BIG not everyone) in the public sector have an entrepreunerial mentality with regard to pensions - what am I going to do for myself?

I believe a "share the pain" program should apply to public pensions that are underfunded and/or have lost money in the recent downturn. Those that were properly funded and administered should have no worries.

And, regarding the discussions around a disparity in benefits, how many retired public service employees are getting ZERO health care benefits? What would the equivalant percentage be in the private sector?
It's simple, many years ago I joined the public sector, to get away from the private sector. There was no way I was going to have my future determined by some jerk in a white shirt who has a pissy day and decides to lay me off.

I didn't even look at my pension plan. But as years went on, those in private sector were looking down at me as a chump. I said to myself, ok, I'm piddling along but will collect a pension and at least keep the wolves off of my back. It was a contract that I essentially made with the state I worked for, I stick around a number of years, I take a lower salary, they pay me a pension and health benies at the end. The salary was below what I could have made had I took my chances with the white shirt idiots. Eventually the salary got better, woohooo.

Well here we are, the contract is due, I'm retired, collecting a pension keeping the wolves off of my back, got some health benies, and the rest is history.

I had no intention of working for the man for so many years at the whim of the man. So I grabbed stability over potential upgrade in lifestyle, whatever that means.

jug
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Old 03-06-2009, 10:12 AM   #79
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the retirement check assumes your home is paid off and you have no expenses other than normal living expenses and an extra vacation or two

if you assume a dual government employee couple made $100,000 at retirement and a $20,000 a year retirement check plus SS then it's more than enough money to live very comfortably
Well yes. It is really a matter of my personality, I suppose. My husband's pension is not COLA-ed and mine looses 1% per year to inflation. I don't trust the government to continue either or SS at the current agreement. My savings are enough to make up for the lost value of the pensions over the years. I have saved up a lot because my husband's family typical life expectancy is in the mid nineties. I hope I have saved enough on top of the inflation to adjust to any reductions he receives in pensions and/or SS. I worry it is not enough if big reductions/changes are made in medical benefits and/or Medicare. Medicare D really scared me because I, myself, considered it a stupid solution. But, then too, I consider a lot done by governments to be stupid so I might be biased.

So, I am just paranoid by nature and don't want to see my husband suffer at age 100 when I'm not there. Right now I am so concerned about a period of high inflation I am considering just working on and making the Post fire department carry me out. I like my job; it just gets in the way of the other things I like to do. (I like the paycheck too.)

In short, I am a coward compared to you guys.
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Old 03-06-2009, 05:45 PM   #80
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The last portion - the DB - is funded not by her own contributions but by taxpayer dollars.
sooo not true, there is both an employee contribution and an employing agency contribution to a federal pension fund which pays for the DB portion of the FERS (as well as the CSRS) retirement.
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