Americans are struggling to save for retirement at a time of still-high unemployment rates, rising college costs and stagnant wages. For many workers, individual circumstances lead to inadequate savings. But for public school teachers, poorly structured retirement policies hinder their future security.
At more than 3 million, teachers are the largest class of U.S. workers with a bachelor’s degree or higher. Unfortunately, policymakers are undermining the future retirement security of this large and important group of workers. In our recent paper, “Friends Without Benefits: How States Systematically Shortchange Teachers’ Retirement and Threaten Their Retirement Security,” we used pension-plan assumptions for all 50 states and the District of Columbia to estimate that, in the median state, more than half of all teachers won’t qualify for even a minimal pension. Fewer than one in five teachers will work a full career and reach the pension plan’s “normal retirement age.” Most will leave their public service with little retirement savings.
This story doesn’t fit with the popular perception of teacher pensions as more generous than private-sector retirement benefits. That’s because the real story of teacher pensions today involves a small number of relatively big winners and a much larger group of losers.