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10 implicit fallacies justifying government pensions

There are many fallacies in government employee demands for high pensions — sometimes explicit but often implicit. Drill down in the labor union playbook of reasons justifying their wonderful pensions, and you'll find the following 10 implied assumptions that are mostly or totally false:

1. "Public employees deserve high pensions because they work for low wages."

False. Perhaps it was true at one time, but not so any more. In many instances, today's government employees are earning 10 to 30 percent more than their private-sector counterparts and with far better job guarantees. By the way, the bogus union salary comparisons usually cherry-pick the private sector — including in their "surveys" only the largest and wealthiest private-sector employers, along with monopoly public utilities. They do not disclose the average private-sector pay figure, and for good reason.

2. "Government employees should not have to save for retirement."

False. They can use IRA — and, for teachers, 403(b) — accounts to add to their retirement savings just like the rest of us. They can invest in stocks, real estate and annuities just like the rest of us. And they can invest the inheritances they receive, modest or otherwise, rather than spending these windfalls and then relying on their pensions as early-retiring government geezers.

3. "Government employees deserve to retire earlier than private-sector employees."

False. Or at least, if they do "need" to retire early, they can get another job to supplement income (as do most military retirees).

4. "Government employees and their families deserve to live and retire comfortably from a single 40-hour-a-week job."

False. Today most private-sector, middle-income and upper-middle-income couples fully expect to generate multiple incomes, usually by some combination of working more than 40 hours and both spouses working.

5. "Government workers deserve guarantees because they are 'public servants' not motivated by greed."

False. As a group, public employees are as greedy as they come, and they rely on government to get what they want. The real "public servants" are the taxpayers underwriting opulent compensation packages.

6. "No matter how many or few years a public employee works for government, their only source of retirement income to consider is their government pensions."

False. Indeed, in their comparisons of government pensions, the public labor union propagandists factor in the folks who work as little as 10 years for government.

7. "Many government employees (including most teachers) don't get Social Security."

Largely false, or at least misleading. It's true that many (primarily local) public employees don't pay into Social Security while working for government, but most qualify for at least a minimum Social Security income from other jobs — 10 years of even part-time Social Security income earned over a lifetime. Moreover, most county, state and federal employees do receive Social Security from their government jobs.

8. "Without the guaranteed pensions, many government employees would retire in poverty."

Largely false, or at least not the fault of taxpayers. This assertion is based on the bogus assumption that, unlike private-sector employees, government employees would (and should) otherwise save nothing for their senior years.

9. "Many government employees should be able to retire with essentially the same income they earned on the job."

False. This is the "90 percent pension at 30 years" standard common in public safety jobs and for too many other government employees. Indeed, given that a retired employee would no longer pay into their pensions, union dues, Medicare, or have commuting costs, a 90 percent pension is actually higher than the net salary earned while working. The ideal and often unattained retirement goal in private-sector financial planning is 60 percent of working income counting all retirement income sources.

10. "We have to pay top pensions to attract 'the best and the brightest' to government work."

False, and a bad idea to start with. We don't want to attract "the best and the brightest" to government work. We need such folks in productive employment in the private sector. All that government pensions do is assure that government employees stay as government employees — an easy accomplishment for the workers as they are all but guaranteed lifetime employment regardless of the quality of their performance.

Government jobs are — with rare exception — in extremely high demand, which is why government so seldom advertises job openings. Exceptionally high applicant demand and low job turnover tells any employer that they are paying too much for their employees. Any employer except government, that is.


Rider is chairman of the San Diego Tax Fighters.

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