Friday, October 22, 2010

Retirement Revisionists

It's amazing how much a newspaper can forget over a one-year period. The Journal Sentinel reported in January 2010 "City's pension fund investments gain." Then in October 2010 they claim Milwaukee's pension fund has the "10th-largest unfunded liability among major U.S. municipal pension funds."

The article itself points to other reports which call into question the methodology supporting the latest pension smears. Yet, again, it appears the Journal is implying something much more dire with the title and lead-in.

The article states, "R.V Kuhns & Associates found that Milwaukee had the second strongest public pension fund of 53 studied nationwide." Yet the title of the Journal article makes one think our pension system is burdensome and bordering on insolvency.

Teresa Ghilarducci, in her own research, clarifies this phony debate, "Private-sector salaries exceed state employee salaries in 20 of the 24 job classifications in which comparisons were made." And this gets to the deal that is the pension system. Public employees take lower pay with the expectation of being able to have a dignified retirement. This also allows pensioned employees to exit the labor market and open positions up for a recent college graduates.

Plus, as AFSCME details, "By providing sufficient and sustainable retirement income, public pension plans help support the U.S. economy over the long term." AFSCME also educates that "taxpayers paid 24% of the total amount paid into public plans during this period [1982-2005], with the remaining 76% coming from investment earnings and employee contributions."

The Wisconsin Department of Employee Trust Funds (ETF) informs us that the pension investment board invests in Wisconsin companies and companies with ties to Wisconsin. The ETF also explain that the "Pew Center on the States recently gave Wisconsin high marks for the financial solvency of the Wisconsin Retirement System, one of only 4 states to be recognized."

This is just more of the continual attack on all things public. Even though all evidence indicates the government and its employees do many things efficiently and many people are happy with the programs, somehow, conservatives turn people against their own best interest and convince them otherwise. Many government initiatives - Social Security, health care reform, pension funds, to name a few - are efficiently run, have low administrative costs, and/or have shown significant cost savings. Not to mention the quality of life improvements for a majority of citizens from such programs.

Let's think about this rationally for a second. Do we want a living wage, the ability to get cost-effective health care when necessary, and have the ability to retire gracefully? Or, do we want to continue with the low-road strategy of poverty-wages, unattainable health care, and having to work until we drop?

We're throwing away the gains of decades of Labor's struggles. It's true, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." And, it seems, we've forgotten all we've learned.

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