Written by David Greenwald Friday, 04 September 2009 05:57
However, time and again, we hear another justification, that public safety employees do not live as long as other employees. In fact, the union President of the local firefighters has often thrown out the number 7 years as the life expectancy upon retirement. That number has been thrown around on the Vanguard as well on the comments section. When asked to substantiate that claim, apparently one can find various websites that show that police in the US have a considerably shorter life expectancy than the average male and there are firefighters sites that show the same for firefighters.
In addition, CalPERS found that the average safety member retires at the age of 55 while the average miscellaneous member retires at age 59. One question unanswered is whether all jurisdictions have gone to the 3% at 50 formula for their public safety employees. But for the purposes of these findings, we know that a 55 year old safety employee can expect to live to the age of 81.4 (or 85 if the happen to be female!). Thus they receive benefits for 26.4 years after retirement, a little bit longer than the 7 the safety officers claim. The miscellaneous employee who retires just before 60 will live another 23 years (26.5 if they are female). Thus the bottom line here is that public safety employees will receive benefits for a longer period of time and at a higher rate than other employees.
CalPERS concludes that this myth is busted and that safety members do live as long as miscellaneous members.
CalPERS also tests the myth to determine whether most public safety employees are receiving 90% of their final salary upon retirement. Given the 3% at 50 formula that would require them to work for 30 years. To get 30 years and retirement at age 50, one would need to start at age 20. Cal PERS found that the average age of entry for people who got 3% at 50 was 28. Overall just 34% of public safety officials accrued 30 years or more of service and almost all of them retired after the age of 53. In fact only 1% of safety employees retire at age 50 with a benefit of 90% of final compensation.
The bottom line here is that it never made sense that the life expectancy of someone retiring at age 50 or in this case probably closer to 55 would be 7 years, even with the stress of the job. If anything, you would think that someone in a more active job would live longer than someone at a more sedentary desk job. That appears untrue as well.
As Steven Greenhut on a blog on the Orange County Register wrote:
"The most common argument I hear from police justifying the lush pensions is that they die shortly after retirement. This is one of those absurd myths that cops and their union members either truly believe or falsely promote for political purposes. On its face, it’s a hard one to believe. If police died a few years after retirement, there would be no unfunded liability crisis. The crisis is caused by the large number of police officers who earn “3 percent at 50? retirements for decades."Indeed, on the opposite end of these, we see many of these officials who do retire at age 50 go on to have a second career and sometimes even generate a second pension.
This is certainly not to begrudge people of a decent living, but there is clearly a need for honesty in this debate so that the public can make up their own mind as to whether or not they believe these benefits are sustainable. The justification that there is only a short window of benefits for public safety employees appears to be debunked by the organization that provides those benefits to begin with and whose board is heavily tilted toward unions.
--David M. Greenwald reporting
Am I reading this right?
Public safety employees who retire at 50 are living just as long as other people in non-public safety jobs. However, very few of public safety people are retiring after 30 years of service (90% of their salary + lifetime health benefits). They are retiring, on average, after 22 years of service (66% of their salaries + lifetime health benefits), then going on to 2nd careers?
Are you saying that public safety workers should work longer? (Do we really want 60 year olds fighting fires?) Die faster? (Let's not go there.) Live on less into their retirement? (66% of $100,000 is $66,000/year - how much lower should we go?) Prohibit 2nd careers? (Is that possible?) Get rid of retirement benefits all together and require 2nd careers to live? (Do we really want to force people to fight fires into their 60's or take their chances on starting another career?)
Your information is good, but it doesn't seem to open the door to a solution.
Actually, there are not that many jobs outside of actual police work and firefighting. Maybe a handful within each of the departments. Regardless, having them continue full-time only increases their percentage of pay once they retire and we are paying them full-time while they do "administrative jobs" for 10 more years or so. Not really a solution.
I'm sort-of with Ryan Kelly at 1:54pm on this one. I had thought for a while that 3 percent at 50 was a benefit that Davis offered some of its workers. But as I understand it now, it is a standard CalPERS formula for "safety employees", meaning I suppose police and fire. If that's what it is, Davis can't change the benefit formula, can it?
If not, the most that Davis could do would be to change the employer fraction of the CalPERS contribution, or cut salaries. (Or cut the number of safety employees.) Is this a correct summary?
I'm sort-of with Ryan Kelly at 1:54pm on this one. I had thought for a while that 3 percent at 50 was a benefit that Davis offered some of its workers. But as I understand it now, it is a standard CalPERS formula for "safety employees", meaning I suppose police and fire.Up until 1998-1999, virtually every "safety" worker* in the state of California (as well as most in other states) had a 2.5% at 55 retirement plan (or something fairly close to that). Then, after taking huge campaign contributions from the CHP union and the prison guards' union, Gov. Gray Davis (with help from the Democrats in the state legislature) agreed to pay off his benefactors, giving them a much more lucrative (and expensive) retirement deal, 3% at 50. (Really, the second number, 50 or 55, does not make much of a difference to the taxpayers, unless the retiree gets other benefits, such as free medical.) No other states beside California today have this "standard." No wonder, our state is in the worst fiscal mess of all states, as our public employees are paid far more in salary, far more in benefits, and far more in retirement.
Once the CHP and the prison guards got 3% at 50, the local police and fire unions used that as a model for local fire and police departments. (This is exactly how Davis and so many other cities got into the terrible budget jam they are in now -- "Well, Elk Grove did it; so we have to do it too, or they will take away our best people.") One by one, almost every new fire and police contract which came up, switched over from the 2.5% formulas to 3%.
To make matters worse for the taxpayers, the non-safety unions, then, used the safey unions new formula as a reason for making their formulas more lucrative to their members. So they upgraded from 2% to 2.5% per annum, one by one, in city after city and county after county up and down California.
Back in the late 1990s, when the stock market was on fire, the great expense of the new formula was not felt by local governments, because CalPERS did not have to raise its rates to fund the very expensive retirement deals. However, that math has caught up with us; and no city, no county and not even the state has any way to pay the burden of all of these higher retirement deals, as CalPERS has performed less than half as well per annum over the last 4-5 years as they needed to in order to keep charging modest rates.
If that's what it is, Davis can't change the benefit formula, can it?Davis can change the rates -- but only for new employees. That is what many cities have done in the last 2 years.
*Safety workers? Keep in mind that in many "public safety" agencies (though not so much in the City of Davis), there are retirees getting the 3% at 50 deal, and current workers who will get it, whose jobs were or are not dangerous in the least. I'm talking about police and prison and some fire administrators. I know of a retiree who lives in Davis, but was an administrator for the California Youth Authority, who retired very young with his 6-figure retirement plan. If anyone other than his spouse thinks that's a fair deal to the taxpayers, your notion of fair is different from mine.
This page suggests that 3 at 50 is a standard CalPERS package, but apparently (according to Rich anyway) it is an optional one.
Anyway it may be true that state of California has simply weakened its own bargaining power and the bargaining power of its cities with its labor contracts for many kinds of employees. This is one of the ways that the state has failed to live within its means. But it may or may not be true that the city of Davis can do much about it. The question is whether it is actually true that Davis offers uncompetitive wages and has trouble recruiting or retaining police and firefighters.
I don't see that Davis has any such trouble in the case of firefighters. It looks like firefighters in Davis get paid better and for easier work than firefighters in some other area cities.
It could be true that police in Davis aren't paid competitively. It could be true that the city has trouble finding good police officers, even though it probably is an easier job here than in towns with more crime.
It is absolutely true that compensation for UC faculty is barely competitive for the national market, and the same appears to be true for chancellors. The official salary scale for faculty has been losing credibility for years. UC has been working around it in various ways, and despite that recruiting and retention have both been hampered.
I am somewhat surprised the Vanguard didn't catch this..but there are those who, while under the 'safety' pay category, do not retire with 3% at 50 or 55.
It depends entirely upon union membership. Many CSEA workers who work in Corrections, retire much later and with less a percentage than the CCPOA. I don't think there is any job which does not call for extreme caution if one is working inside the 'fence' in a prison. Yet, many do retire much older,(generally around 65 years of age,) with much less.
"I don't see that Davis has any such trouble in the case of firefighters. It looks like firefighters in Davis get paid better and for easier work than firefighters in some other area cities.
It could be true that police in Davis aren't paid competitively. It could be true that the city has trouble finding good police officers, even though it probably is an easier job here than in towns with more crime.
It is absolutely true that compensation for UC faculty is barely competitive for the national market, and the same appears to be true for chancellors. The official salary scale for faculty has been losing credibility for years. UC has been working around it in various ways, and despite that recruiting and retention have both been hampered."
Funny how you are willing to concede firefighters and police may be paid too much, but not UC execs and faculty, who are absolutely underfunded according to you. All depends on where you are looking at it from. From the taxpayers point of view, it looks as if all the salaries are bloated, including UC, especially to taxpayers who are barely eeking out a living.
Funny how you are willing to concede firefighters and police may be paid too much
Actually, I concede firefighters and not police. David posted a chart that suggested that Davis firefighters are in fact paid more than the regional median. I have seen no such evidence in the case of police.
From the taxpayers point of view, it looks as if all the salaries are bloated
Only from the point of view of those taxpayers who don't know very much about it. When it "looks" to them that all the salaries are bloated, they don't actually look at what other people are paid to do the same job. Instead, it violates a theoretical sense of fairness that has very little to do with realistic economics.
Returning to the basic theme of this post, it was once true that safety employees, and particularly police officers, had a lower life span than the population at large. There were many reasons for this, not the least of which was the absence of an internal support system during times of crisis and a self-destructive life style.
In the past 3 decades, however, there has been tremendous strides in rectifying these defects. The result is that law enforcement officers do live much longer than before. While there may be other arguments for an enhanced pension system for this category of employee, a shorter life span is no longer one of them.
As a long-time public servant, I recall being mocked (in a fun sort of way) by associates who recounted their high pay, fringe benefits, and rich bonuses in the private sector.
Now that the economy has turned sour, the public servants (and their perceived exhorbitant retirement pensions) are suddenly being derided.
Ain't it funny how the coin flips.
When I retire (say at age 55), I will have no medical insurance coverage for me and my family (oops, there's one wheel falling off the proverbial gravy train). Why? Because the City I work for refuses to bargain for it, knowing full well that it is an unknown (and costly) expense. Not having any medical insurance is obviously unenviable, severely impacting one's monthly pension or being a strong factor (instead of greedily "double-dipping") for a reitree to look for a second career.
Why is it that our society has resigned itself to perpetuation of millions upon millions of dollars in annual salaries doled out to a plethora of prima donna athletes and entertainers, yet begrudge public servants for fulfilling their careers or idly stand by as our educational system and other core public service entities continue to founder?
I can almost envision a misanthropic editorial cartoon showing a bloated and unshaven drooling union figure strangling cities by the neck with one hand while extending a turned hand with the other, watching the gold coins drop into the open greased palm.
The problem is a serious one, but I know it to be a more complex issue than it is now being portrayed.
This article does a poor job of putting things into perspective. Let's take for example a typical week in the life of a police officer. One call the officer may respond to a call regarding a child who was brutally abused and molested. Do you really think that doesn't have an effect on that officer, especially when the officer will most likely encounter another call like that. That next call and officer goes to a call regarding a family that was brutally slaughtered. Another call, officers responded to a call regarding one of their co-workers that was shot and killed by a criminal that was arrested 3 weeks ago, but was released because a technicality in the justice system. Next the officer responds to a call at a home where the entire family hates the police. That family challenges the right and authority of the police to be there, and the police are required to defend themselves. That family later sues the police officers for violations of their civil rights, although no violation were present. And then there are those who make complaints against officers just for the purpose of harassing them. The examples go on and on and on. Now imagine the constant stresses and emotions associated with that over a 20-30 year career. Not to mention a majority of officers never make it that far do to injury or death.
It is a fact, officers that worked to the typical retirement age, did not live long after retirement. Now that the retirement age has been lowered, officers are now living longer because of the ability to retire early. These are the people who run toward gun fire when everyone else is running away. These are the people who die by the hundreds every year to keep the public safe. I think an early retirement is the least we can do to protect our public safety personnel.
While you may think you've hit a gold mine here, any actuary familiar with the CalPERS system and the plan participants will tell you that you just lost the argument based on your apples to oranges data set. A safety member in City of Los Angeles, County of Los Angeles, County of Ventura, City of SanDiego, County of Orange, etc. is vastly different than a State of California safety member. I'm very familiar with the data set from the CalPERS study so I know that CalPERS included the quasi-safety member records. These quasi-safety members don't exist outside the state collective bargaining agreements. In short, you can't compare a Rampart Division police officer or a East L.A. fire medic with a plumber in a prison or a doctor at a state mental facility. This survey did not separate out the true historical safety members (think guns and hoses) from those who are safety members by contract only. When the data set is set to apples to apples the story changes. You can also look at the data of the Charter Cities and the 1937 Act Counties and their true safety members and you will see the much younger mortality figures. Modern safety policies and technology have extended the mortality figures over the last decade, but not comparatively close to the general population. The other data that must be examined is the cost to maintain an older true safety member (line assigned, not administrative). Workers Comp costs, even if self insured, are extremely high for true safety members. Their work is dangerous and technology does not and cannot replace hands-on physical labor. If your front door is being kicked in by intruders, do you really want three sixty y.o. members of law enforcement responding. I don't. The same for the fire service. There are not enough administrative positions to pigeon hole the old people. It may feel good to think there are ways around the age issues for true safety members but there are few. The old retirement laws usually provided incentives for safety members to keep working until they were 55 years of age. Now there is a large mixture of plans available. Maybe revisiting the 55 goal would be prudent.
I stumbled into this a little late but had to add some facts to this poorly represented story. First of all the stats used in the beginning of this article are not only false, but hardly believeable.The writer states that non-safety employees have the EXACT same life expectancy as safety(police/fire) do to the decimal point.
Even someone with no clue or research would have trouble believeing that if you took two people and put one in an office for 30 years and the other on the streets, away from their family for over a third of the month, waking up several times a night for prolonged periods(emergency calls), exposure to smoke/toxins/carcinogens, extreme stress(not like meeting a deadline in the office, but rather trying not to die) and then say that they will live to the exact same day 100 % of the time is absurd.
Here are some actuaries(real numbers) from the city of Miami that did a study on retired firefighters.
As of todays date, they have had 255 deaths since 1952, of which tracked the causes for 209 of them! The other 46 deaths are missing some type of info, i.e: prior to record keeping, the cause, date of death, date of retirement, age, etc so have been excluded from all stats.
Of those 209 deaths, 35% (72) were due to Cancer, 19% (due to Cardiac and 8 % each for self-inflicted and MVAs.
Next number: 31% NEVER MADE it to RETIREMENT! including 23 LODD's
Next stat: 39% never made their 10th year POST-RETIREMENT
Worst stat: 46% NEVER SAW THEIR 60th BIRTHDAY!
Causes of death within the first 5 years of retirement (17) total: 11 (64%) due to cancer, 3 (18%) due to self-inflicted, 2 (12%) due to cardiac, and 1 due to a CVA.
Deaths broken down by ages; 20's=6, 30's=18, 40's=18, 50's=45, 60's=46, 70's=38, and 80's=20.
For those interested in checking whether Cancer or Cardiac is the leading cause of LODD's, and LET'S make an ASSUMPTION that firefighters RETIRE BY THE AGE OF 55, then go to the IAFF website and check all cancer deaths under age of 55, and then do the same for Cardiac.
In a cincinatti study researchers found firefighters have a 100-percent higher risk of developing testicular cancer, a 50-
percent higher risk for multiple myeloma and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, and for prostate cancer it's a
28-percent increased risk, compared with nonfirefighters.
Don't always believe what you read. I reccomend doing your own research before coming to a conclusion. You will find that 1) It is better to keep a fireifighter working for 25+ years because he is a skilled professional and will provode better service as well as have a less likely chance of hurting himself or co-workers during an emergency. 2) Unfortunately his body will pay a price for serving his community and doing a job he/she loves and will usually not enjoy a long retirement.
If cities/counties/retirement systems were not all so poorly managed then this wouldnt even be a hot topic right now. Find somewhere else to trim your budgets and compensate firefighters with a fair salary and retirement for their service.