Link to AAUW report: https://www.aauw.org/aauw_check/pdf_download/show_pdf.php?file=The_Simple_Truth
Recently, candidates for office in Iowa have been asked to promise future Iowa public employees that they will make no changes to the Iowa Public Employment Retirement System (IPERS) retirement plan. Instead, politicians need to state clearly that they make no promises to future employees about their retirement benefits. The fact that IPERS is currently underfunded by about $7 billion shows clearly that we already have over-promised benefits when compared to what we expected taxpayers and public employees to pay.
(When government has a defined benefit plan, the participants seem to think that any over-funding is their asset, but any under-funding is a liability of the taxpayers. In the past, when IPERS was over-funded, benefits were increased!)
The way to make sure that we don’t make retirement benefit promises that turn out to be more expensive than we expect to pay is to put new government employees on a defined contribution retirement plan – just like most employees in the private sector. This will cause the unfunded liability to come due over the next 50+ years, but at least it won’t get worse.
In a recent Iowa View essay in the Des Moines Register, Josh Mandelbaum wrote that Republican proposals to move the Iowa public employee’s pension plan (IPERS) away from a defined benefit plan and toward a defined contribution plan are, “ideologically driven”. If by that term he means an ideology under which employee pensions should be financially sustainable and fair to both employees and taxpayers, then count me as ideologically driven also… and that’s a good thing.
In our political/government employment environment, defined contribution plans have mostly been significantly underfunded and unsustainable. In an actuarially sound defined benefit plan, the balance in the fund should have a surplus as often as it has a deficit. But, as we have seen in the past, when there appears to be a funding surplus, politicians increase benefits rather temporarily lowering the contributions paid by both taxpayers and employees. There is a built-in tendency for politicians to over-promise and under-fund because future benefits will not be paid out until many years later. Supporters of the current IPERS system like to say that Iowa has one of the most financially sound retirement systems in the U.S. IPERS is only about $7 billion short of the funds necessary to keep its promises! It has only about 81 cents for each dollar that it owes.
Defined contribution plans can have most of the same benefits, and potentially more, for employees. It does shift significant responsibility and risk to the employee to invest wisely and to not spend retirement money too fast during retirement. But, under a defined contribution plan the employees own the money in their retirement account, and can take it with them if they decide to change employers, and can leave it to anyone they wish after they die.
There will be a significant fiscal challenge that must be met if we were to make the change from a defined benefit to a defined contribution plan: If new employees put their retirement contributions into a defined contribution plan and don’t contribute to the existing defined benefit plan, the already-existing $7 billion of under-funding of IPERS will come due and need to be paid out over the next 50 – 60 years. In a big way, IPERS is still operating like a giant Ponzi Scheme – taking money from new investors to payoff old investors. (Illegal if done in the private sector.) It is time for us to lock-in the under-funding liability and stop making it worse. We need to put new government employees into a defined contribution plan.
The Des Moines Sunday Register published a lead article (Page 1) titled, “The rich keep getting richer”. (See link below.) Included were a number of misleading statistics or misleading conclusions based on the statistics. For example, according the think tank, Iowa Policy Project, the median hourly wage in 2016 was $16.04 per hour. 37 years ago, the average wage, adjusted for inflation, which is fair, was $15.91. The Register concluded, “This means a typical wage earner working 40 hours per week for a full year would have seen a real increase of $270.40 over a 37 year span.” While the statistics are technically true, you cannot logically conclude and that any specific person or group of people did not move themselves from a lower wage to a significantly higher wage. I’m sure it is true some people moved down while some people moved up. An interesting study would be to see how wages correlate to the number of years in the employment market. It would be interesting to know the median starting hourly rate for a young inexperienced worker versus and an experienced worker who has been in the labor market to 30 years. The fact that the average stays about the same my be a problem, but almost no one stays at the average wage for 37 years.
Another statistic was that the number of people who earned $1 million or more during specific years increased from 5,031 in 2010 to 8,325 in 2015. Their “slice” of the state’s total adjusted gross income grew 37%. Meanwhile, the number of Iowans claiming gross incomes of $40,000 to $99,999 climbed by 23% while their slice of the state’s total adjusted gross income fell 2%. First, I would venture to guess that a significant majority of the $1 million+ earners are people who sold their businesses or had other one-time income. So, again,there is no logical reason to presume that the $1 million+ club is made up of the same people year-after-year. At the same time, from 2010 to 2015 the Iowa economy was generally continuing to improve, so values and prices of businesses likely climbed. Also, in the case of an “expanding pie”, the fact that any group gets a smaller percentage of the total does not mean that their real income is not increasing.
Finally, the Register reported that their analysis of U.S. Census data showed that the bottom fifth of earners saw practically no growth in household income – going from $13,798 in 2006 to $13,848 in 2016, again adjusted for inflation. Here again, there is no logical reason to believe that the specific group of people who were in the bottom 20% in 2006 are the same people who were in the bottom 20% 10 years later. It would be interesting to know what percent of the people in the bottom 20% in 2006 were still in the bottom 20% 10 years later. My guess is there would be some, but not a majority.
As a society we need to make sure we don’t put hurdles in front of people who are trying to improve their lot in life. In many cases this means removing government created regulatory barriers to entry into certain jobs. The Register has done very good work exposing job licensing regulations that are in place more to protect existing businesses from competition and to protect the profits of licensing education businesses, than to protect the public. Yet, the Iowa Legislature has done precious little to address this real problem for low income workers who are trying to work their way up in our economy.
Link to Register article: https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/money/business/2017/11/25/most-iowa-wages-have-stagnated-but-rich-keep-getting-richer/818770001/
A transgendered person should be eligible to serve in the military, just like just like every other man or women, and just like every other gay or straight person. If they are qualified to do the job, then government should not discriminate against them based on their transgendered status. That does not mean the military or taxpayers should foot the bill for sex change operations. Just as being transgendered is not a disease, surgery to to change a person’s sex is not a medical necessity. Transgendered folks will can be completely healthy without a sex change operation. So, sex change operations should be considered elective, and not be required to be covered by any insurance plan, including that of the military.