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Retirement Security

“Don’t take your benefits for granted.”

—Mary Reid
New York State Public Employees Federation

Is your retirement secure? That’s a loaded question these days. Most members of AFT Public Employees participate in defined-benefit retirement systems that provide retirees guaranteed income for life. The amount of the benefit is typically based on years of service and final average salary.

But a combination of factors, both real and manufactured, ranging from the economic downturn to political ideology, have resulted in increased scrutiny of defined-benefit pensions for public employees. Your retirement benefits have been called “America’s pension time bomb,” “the unspoken deficit,” and a “huge burden for state and local governments.”

Absent from the political rhetoric and media reports about the under-funded defined-benefit retirement systems is the fact that public employees have been automatically paying their share into the retirement systems. Payroll departments see to it, taking the worker’s contributions straight out of their paychecks. The same cannot be said for employers’ contributions. Many governments, as employers, have taken payment holidays over the years, relying on investment returns to make up for skipped payments.

“Every single person who has a defined benefit should be worried,” says Gerri Madrid-Davis, executive director of the National Public Pension Coalition (NPPC). The NPPC was established in 2006 by the AFT and other labor unions to act as an early warning system and make strategic assessments of policy proposals that threaten defined-benefit pensions.

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