IBJNews

Federal workers' pensions targeted in budget deal

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

Distinctly unpopular among voters and a scant presence in most congressional districts, federal workers have become an easy target in the hunt for budget savings.

Their retirement programs are notably generous compared to the norm in private industry. But for federal workers hired after 2012, the pension program is turning less generous.

Most federal civilian employees hired beginning in January will contribute 4.4 percent of their pay to their pension plans under the House-passed budget bill the Senate is expected to approve this week. Government workers hired in 2013 will continue paying 3.1 percent of their gross pay to help cover their pensions; those on the federal payroll before then, 0.8 percent.

"It's insane they should be expected to fund government," said Jackie Simon, policy director for the American Federation for Government Employees, the union representing 630,000 federal workers. "It's a big country. The burden should be spread more broadly."

But with pensions for nongovernment workers on a path toward extinction, federal employees get little sympathy from some experts.

"Their private sector counterparts would be jealous of the benefits they're maintaining," said John Ehrhardt, a principal at the actuarial and consulting firm Milliman.

While 38 percent of private industry workers received pensions in 1979, just 14 percent did so in 2011, the most recent figures from the Employee Benefit Research Institute, which advocates for benefit programs.

Besides retaining their pensions, most federal workers also can contribute to a 401(k)-like savings program, the Thrift Savings Plan.

That combination is far better than what's available to most private industry workers. In 2011, only 11 percent of employees in the private sector had both savings plans and monthly pension payments, according to the research institute.

For federal workers, the government matches up to the first 5 percent of employees' contributions to their retirement savings.

Only about 4 in 10 companies offer retirement savings plans, a number that's been growing. The most common practice is for employers to match half what workers contribute up to the first 6 percent of pay, according to an industry survey.

Federal workers and their supporters argue that their pensions can't be considered in a vacuum.

The 2.2 million federal civilian employees have had their pay frozen for the past three years. In addition, most were furloughed for at least a day without pay this year, thanks to the automatic spending cuts triggered by the two parties' budget standoff.

Federal workers aren't the only public employees facing growing pension expenses. Such plans remain common for many state and local workers, and 30 states imposed higher pension costs on their employees between 2009 and 2012, according to a National Conference of State Legislatures survey.

Such plans — called defined benefits because employers must spend whatever is needed to fully finance them — have been fading in the private sector for decades, as companies shed those expenses. Many firms have shifted to savings plans to which they make a defined contribution, making workers face the risk if investments go bad.

Federal workers "have to be careful about crying foul over something for which the other solution would be to eliminate it," said Lynn Dudley, senior policy vice president for the American Benefits Council, representing big companies that provide retirement benefits.

Most federal workers hired before 1984 are covered by the older Civil Service Retirement System. They contribute 7 percent of their earnings for their pensions but are not covered by Social Security — thus avoiding the 6.2 percent Social Security payroll tax other workers pay.

When Congress strengthened Social Security's finances in 1983, it put federal workers hired starting in 1984 under a new Federal Employees' Retirement System. They contribute 0.8 percent of their pay to their pensions, but also pay Social Security taxes.

In 2012, that pension contribution was raised to 3.1 percent. Earlier this year, federal workers' retirement costs seemed on track for deeper increases than those the budget deal would impose.

The Republican-run House approved a budget deducting 6.35 percent from all federal workers' paychecks, not just new hires, to help cover their pensions, saving the government $130 billion over a decade.

President Barack Obama earlier this year proposed saving $20 billion by gradually raising their pension contributions by 1.2 percent.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, top Democrat on the House Budget Committee, said he signed off on the $6 billion increase for new federal employees hired beginning in January after Obama assured him he would propose no new retirement benefit cuts in next year's budget.

Van Hollen, whose district has many federal workers, said Obama made that commitment by phone last week as Air Force One refueled on its way to ceremonies for the late South African leader Nelson Mandela.

ADVERTISEMENT

Post a comment to this story

COMMENTS POLICY
We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
 
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
 
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in IBJ editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
 
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
 
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.
 

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by
ADVERTISEMENT

facebook - twitter on Facebook & Twitter

Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ on Facebook:
Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ's Tweets on these topics:
 
Subscribe to IBJ
  1. Uh, sorry Johnnie, but you are incorrect. Despite the assertions by yourself and various defenders and captains, sports attendance is NOT off significantly at most sporting events in the US. Variances in attendance has been in the range of single digits, both + & - for years now. MLB has had most of its best overall attendance nubers in the last decade, and that trend has been consistent for most major sporting events. The number one issue cited by most fans when asked about attendance is the overall cost of attending. The presence of HD and big screen televisions in home doesn't even register, as a factor for not attending an event. VALUE in the product is the key, and apparently is something lacking in the current ICS. What other explanation is there when with what is routinely touted as the "best" racing on the planet, fans are staying away in DROVES. A "close" title battle into the last event at Fontana, with the "cars and stars" of the ICS, and who showed up? MAYBE 8K. Sorry, but HD TV isn't to blame for that kind of fan apathy.

  2. Do you need finance to establish your business ? Are you interested in getting a loan at 3% from our private company? If so please Email: suntrust_oil@blumail.org

  3. If she was worth the $ the public outcry over direct tv dropping them would have kept them on their dishes as we have seen with other companies. I too quit watching channel 13 after she showed up since I left channel 8 because of her all show rather than production results. When Randy on 8 corrected her she had a big head and incorrectly challenged his correction for pronunciation of a city. Other antics while she matures was too much for me with her very inaccurate forecasts. All the forecasters were predicting rain until Thursday except Chris. They predicted sunny on Thursday but instead of rain until Thursday upon which the sun would finally make it out in full glory Chris was right on the money just as I too predicted looking at the radar on weather.gov. One thing I love about Angela is the fear you can see in her every time it thunders in the winter. It far exceeds the entertainment value of her body language (high heel noise drags, depression, etc) when her forecasts are so incorrect. Her hair stands on end, you have to see it!!!

  4. Good Day, Apply For A Loan I am Mr Fernadez Antonio, a private Loan lender and a cooperate financial for real estate and any kinds of business financing. I also offer Loans to individuals, Firms and cooperate bodies at 3% interest rate We offer any kind of loans. email us via fernadezloaninvest@outlook.com LOAN APPLICATION FORM First name:......................... Middle name:......................... Last name:........................................ Date of birth (yyyy-mm-dd):....................... Gender:........................................... Marital status:................................... Total Amount Needed............................... Loan Duration.................................... Address:.......................................... City:............................................. State/province:................................... Zip/postal code:.................................. Country:.......................................... Phone:............................................ Fax:.............................................. Mobile/cellular:.................................. Monthly Income.................................... Occupation:....................................... Best Regard, Mr Fernadez Antonio.

  5. i will love to share my testimony to you all the people in world i got married to my husband about 2 year ago we start having problems at home like we stop sleeping on the same bed,fighting about little things he always comes home late at night,drinking too much and sleeping with other women out side i have never love any man in my life except him. he is the father of my child and i don't want to loose him because we have worked so hard together to become what we are and have today .few month ago he now decided to live me and the kid,being a single mother can be hard sometimes and so i have nobody to turn to and i was heart broken.i called my mom and explain every thing to her,my mother told me about DR.okoro how he helped her solve the problem between her and my dad i was surprise about it because they have been without each other for three and a half years and it was like a miracle how they came back to each other. i was directed to DR. okoro on his email:okorospell@gmail.com and explain everything to him,so he promise me not to worry that he will cast a spell and make things come back to how we where so much in love again and that it was another female spirit that was controlling my husband he told me that my problem will be solved within two days if i believe i said OK So he cast a spell for me and after two days my love came back asking me to forgive him i Am so happy now. so that why i decided to share my experience with every body that have such problem contact Dr okoro the great spell caster on his email addresses spellcasterforlove@outlook.com

ADVERTISEMENT