Special education teacher Daniel Specht admits retirement was on his mind 15 years ago when he accepted a job in Kodiak, Alaska. Spect, who was about 30 at the time, immigrated from Minnesota with her husband and her young daughter. When her salary started showing without Social Security withholding, she at first thought it was a mistake.
“At that age, I wasn’t really worried about retirement, so I didn’t look into it,” Speccht says. It was only later that she learned that teachers in Alaska were not allowed to participate in federal programs.
She also didn’t know that changes to Alaska’s civil service pension system meant she could no longer receive a defined benefit pension. Traditional defined benefit pension plans provide retired workers with a stable source of income guaranteed for life. This differs from retirement savings plans such as Her 401(k) and Her 403(b), which are called defined contribution plans, where the employee bears all the risks. Income for retirees is not guaranteed and depends on how much the employee contributes and how the plan’s investments are implemented.
Educators who lack defined benefit pensions often struggle to prepare for retirement.
“We have no retirement security at all,” says Spect. “It depends on the stock market. .
She and her husband recently purchased land in Kentucky and plan to move there when their teenage daughter graduates from high school in three years. The cost of living is significantly lower in Kentucky, so you can buy a house with land for hunting and gardening.
“We love Kodiak,” says Spect. “But we can’t afford to stay here.”
Mr. Specht has been active in the union for many years, educating other union members on the value of defined benefit pensions, and speaking out in support of NEA Alaska’s fight to restore pensions for civil servants, including educators. I’ve raised
Educators across the country face similarly difficult decisions. That is why the NEA and its affiliates continue to advocate defined benefit pensions.
3 things you need to know about defined benefit pensions
1. Good for employees.
A defined benefit pension provides educators with a guaranteed and reliable source of income after retirement. The pension plan is comprehensive and also provides disability benefits, death benefits and even cost of living adjustments. In other words, they care for you for life and continue to support your loved ones after your death.
2. Good for employers.
Pensions are key to attracting and retaining qualified and experienced educators in this profession. Schools and students succeed when talented young people are recruited into the profession and stay in it longer.
3. Good for economy.
Annuities are more efficient than 401(k) plans, offering nearly double the value for every dollar invested, offering higher returns and lower fees. Replacing annuities with 401(k) plans significantly increases fees and the amount employees must contribute.
So why are defined benefit pensions under attack?
Unfortunately, pensions have come under attack in recent years. Powerful plutocrats continue to push to replace pensions with 401(k)-style plans that reward educators who stay for only a few years but provide no incentive to stay.
The privatizer’s goal of making education a revolving door job is utterly misplaced. And their claims that 401(k) plans serve teachers better are completely unreliable.
The only clear winners in this scenario are Wall Street companies that charge higher fees through 401(k) type plans.
For more information on pensions and post-retirement security, visit nea.org/pensions.