This Week in Pensions: May 10, 2024

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Celebrating Public Employees: NPPC Highlight 

NPPC believes public employees deserve to be celebrated daily, especially during Public Service Recognition Week! Delve into our latest blog and check out our video honoring these unsung heroes who play a crucial role in keeping our communities healthy, safe, and thriving.

Rethinking Retirement: The 401(k) Dilemma and America’s Savings Crisis

In an article for The New York Times detailing the consequences of the 401(k) system on American retirement planning, Michael Steinberger echoed what NPPC has been saying for years. Centered around the story of Jen Forbus, a 50-year-old editorial supervisor from Lorain, Ohio, the piece illustrates the precarious retirement landscape that many Americans face. Despite being in good health, debt-free, and on track to pay off her mortgage, Forbus is still concerned about her retirement future. She has saved $200,000, but fears this won’t be sufficient to maintain her modest lifestyle into her retirement, a common anxiety among those dependent on 401(k) plans rather than the more stable pensions of previous generations.

The article highlights the broader implications of the shift from defined benefit pensions to defined contribution plans like the 401(k), which leave many without sufficient retirement savings. Experts like economist Teresa Ghilarducci criticize this “do-it-yourself” pension model, arguing it has largely failed to provide financial security to retirees, instead exacerbating income inequality and economic uncertainty. This reflective piece raises crucial questions about the effectiveness and fairness of the 401(k) system, probing whether it has truly served the American public or merely benefited the financial elite–and if you’re a regular reader of our blog, you can probably guess where we stand on this issue.

NDU President Calls for Budget Focus on Raises for Teachers and Public Workers Post-Pension Closure

In response to North Dakota’s pivot from its traditional pension system, Nick Archuleta, President of the North Dakota United (NDU), advocates for significant salary increases for educators and other public sector employees. As Governor Doug Burgum gears up to present the state’s budget, Archuleta emphasizes the urgent need to address the downward trajectory of teacher compensation in North Dakota. He points to the National Education Association’s annual report, which shows North Dakota dropped from 33rd to 37th in average teacher salaries—a worrying trend that threatens to worsen the current educator shortage.

Archuleta also remarks on the financial setbacks of closing the defined benefit pension plan, noting that it has proven costlier than legislators anticipated. He warns that North Dakota risks repelling prospective public service employees without adequate salary enhancements.

Facing a national scarcity of qualified candidates for public service roles, North Dakota finds itself in a critical position. “There is a shortage of people willing to take these jobs in public service,” Archuleta points out. “We really need to acknowledge this reality and take measures to attract and retain our high-quality workforce.” With the upcoming budget announcement by Governor Burgum, there is hope that prioritizing wage increases will strengthen the state’s public sector workforce and secure its stability. At NPPC, we maintain that sustaining a pension system is essential for retaining talented and qualified public employees.

Addressing Illinois’ Public Sector Labor Shortage

In an article for the Daily Herald, Frank Manzo IV, an economist at the Illinois Economic Policy Institute—a nonpartisan organization—highlights Illinois’ acute shortage of workers in essential public service roles and its detrimental impact on crucial services and communities. Illinois grapples with over 4,000 unfilled teaching positions and 15,000 vacancies in registered nursing, placing pressure on public education and healthcare systems. Additionally, police departments are struggling with recruitment, further compromising public safety.

Manzo attributes these shortages to several factors, including burnout, inadequate compensation, and waning interest among younger generations. For instance, teachers earn 24% less than peers with similar educational backgrounds, while nurses face dangerous understaffing that leads to job burnout. In law enforcement, the demands of mandatory overtime and increased scrutiny intensify the challenges.

To address these issues, Manzo advocates for enhancing job quality through better pay, loan forgiveness, and scholarship opportunities, which could help attract and retain vital talent. He also supports developing apprenticeship programs and structural reforms like statewide nurse-to-patient ratios and pension adjustments.

On the legislative front, Illinois is making strides to alleviate the teacher shortage. State Representative Sue Scherer is spearheading a bill aimed at simplifying the route to a teaching career by modifying exam requirements, particularly for those seeking licensure for grades 1 through 6. The proposed legislation would allow candidates to retake specific sections of the licensing exam, thus eliminating a major hurdle.

Be sure to check back next Friday for the latest in the fight for a secure retirement! For now, sign up for NPPC News Clips to receive daily pension news from across the country directly to your inbox.