The modest reality of California public workers' pensions

Monday, March 14, 2011; 8:04 PM

Regarding the March 9 news story "State and local workers: Gone but not off the books":

You would have to be a retired corporate chief executive with your own bloated pension to applaud the outrageous retirement benefits that The Post says Bruce Malkenhorst Sr. receives from Vernon, Calif. But in truth, only a tiny minority of the state's 513,000 pensioners receives even a significant fraction of what Malkenhorst gets.

It took seven paragraphs, though, for the story to note that pensions such as Malkenhorst's are "not typical." That's an understatement. Most California public employees are barely getting by on their pensions, which average only a bit more than $2,000 a month. Classified school employees average even less, at only $1,193 a month. In fact, the state pays less today for retirement, as a percentage of payroll, than it did in 1980.

Both California's public worker unions and the state's pension system have supported curbs to pension spiking, backing strong legislation last year - unaccountably vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger - that would have virtually ended the practice. State employees did negotiate agreements that significantly tightened the state's pension formula and doubled what they will pay toward their own retirement. The real concern should be for the vast and growing majority of American workers with savings hardly a quarter of what is needed to retire in dignity.

Dave Low, Sacramento

The writer is executive director of the California School Employees Association.

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