Last week in the Wall Street Journal, Jason Richwine and I debunked the claim that typical public employee pensions are “modest,” as public sector unions claim. Average pension amounts cited by unions include both older retirees and short-time workers, whose pension benefits are much lower. A full-career public employee—the best comparison to a typical private sector worker—receives benefits significantly above private sector levels. An Illinois teacher who retired after 30 years, we showed, would receive pension benefits that put her income in the top 5 percent of all retirees in that state. To match that kind of benefit, a private sector worker would need to save around 45 percent of his income in a 401(k).
So several days later, the letters to the editor arrive. Most are actually pretty thoughtful. And then there’s the one from the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees. How does AFSCME debunk our debunking? By citing the same average benefit figures we showed to be so misleading and then claiming that public employees “pay” for their benefits through contributions ranging from 3 to 10 percent of their earnings, which, as we showed, hardly pays for the full benefit.
So we debunk a talking point and they simply repeat it back. I’m not sure if that’s progress, but at least it shows that’s the best they’ve got.