Nearly 6,000 Retired Illinois Teachers Made Six-Figure Pensions in 2014

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The number of retired Illinois public school teachers and administrators taking home six-figure pensions topped 5,600 in 2014 — up 60 percent from 2012, according to pension records obtained by Pension360.

Nearly six out of every 100 teachers with ten or more years of service have retired with a six-figure pension.

However, data also shows that benefit increases are not a primary cause of the unfunded liabilities currently being shouldered by the state’s Teacher’s Retirement System.

In Illinois, a $100,000 annual pension is 78 percent higher than the state’s median household income of $56,210, and 235 percent greater than the state’s per-capita income of $29,856, based on U.S. Census Bureau information.

In comparison, less than 2,000 New Jersey retirees pull in six-figure pensions, according to New Jersey Watchdog, which includes all employees, not just teachers.

Less than one out of every 100 New Jersey public workers will retire with a pension greater than $100,000.

New York, on the other hand, closely mirrors Illinois: six percent of teachers retire with a six-figure pension, according to local press accounts.

Based on the U.S. Census, 6.03 percent of actively-working Americans over 18 years of age receive salaries exceeding $100,000.

For those who are retired, the annual income is much lower. The average household ages 55-64 had $12,000 in retirement savings in 2013, according to a study from the National Institute on Retirement Security.

That figure includes 401(k) and other retirement accounts, but doesn’t include Social Security, from which the average retiree receives $1,285 per month, according to the Social Security Administration. Regardless, when all added, few retirees enjoy a six-figure income.

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Using a benchmark of passive income equal to one twenty-fifth of savings, the average retiree would receive an annual income of $15,900 during their retirement ($1,285 per month from Social Security and $40 per month from their retirement savings).

Only 48 percent of private-sector workers have access to an employer-sponsored retirement plan, and that’s the lowest rate in at least 30 years, according to the National Institute on Retirement Security study.

But in Illinois, the number of $100,000 pensions for public school teachers is rising rapidly. Six-figure pensions for public school teachers and administrators are up over 60 percent from 2012, when 3,458 retired teachers received $100,000-plus pensions from the state, according to pension records obtained by Pension360.

These pensions were usually awarded to very long-term workers. The average tenure of a six-figure pensioner was 35 years. Thus, a teacher who joined the system at the age of 22 would be 57 years old before collecting a $100,000 annual check.

Screen shot 2015-04-08 at 9.25.41 PMIllinois’ unfunded pension liabilities ballooned to an official $111 billion across all systems in 2014 – a 17 percent increase since 2012, according to the state’s Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability.  The total liability is about $200 billion, nearly half of which is secured with the money held by Illinois pension funds.

The Illinois Teachers Retirement System, which covers all Illinois teachers outside of Chicago, shoulders $61 billion of the state’s total unfunded liability. Though the teachers receive no social security, they are also exempt from paying social security taxes.

Union officials have long argued that pension benefits are necessary to recruit and retain talented teachers.

Further, TRS data shows that benefit increases are not a primary cause of the System’s unfunded liabilities. See the chart below, put together by actuary and blogger Mary Pat Campbell:

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A majority of TRS’ unfunded liabilities can be attributed to under-contributions from the state. Credit: Mary Pat Campbell @ STUMP

As for the system’s underfunding, TRS officials lay much of the blame on the state for not makings its actuarially-required pension contributions.

In a letter to the Chicago Tribune, long-time TRS trustee Bob Lyons wrote:

“The people of Illinois need to know that Illinois teachers and other public employees have earned their pensions and have paid their full share to ensure their retirement. Today the pension payment cost, which the State is required to make, is not high because pensions are high, but rather because throughout the years the State did not meet its own funding responsibilities.”

Only six states have paid a lower percentage of their annual pension payments than Illinois since 2001, according to a recent report from the National Association of State Retirement Administrators.

No matter the cause, the liabilities are having a tangible effect on state finances.

And the reality is that there’s no easy way out – not for public employees, and certainly not for the state.

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9 Responses to “Nearly 6,000 Retired Illinois Teachers Made Six-Figure Pensions in 2014”

  1. Mike says:

    Please cite the source of the data and the year.

    Per OpenTheBooks.com, there are 5,941 teachers and administrators in the Teachers Retirement System of Illinois (TRS) pension fund earning a $100,000 or greater pension in 2014.

    And per the same website, there are 285 employees in the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund (CTPF) earning a $100,000 or greater pension in 2013.

    So is it really only teachers in the statistics quoted in the article, or is it teachers and administrators.

    Taxpayers United of America also has statistics on teacher and administrator pensions, although they do not have a database look-up, whereas OpenTheBooks.com does have a database look-up.

    Better Government Association is another source for teacher and administrator pensions in Illinois, and they do have a database look-up.

    OpenTheBooks.com covers several states in addition to Illinois.

    • Bob says:

      Why don’t you go into teaching if it’s such an easy job and pays BIG bucks?? Why?? Stop complaining and get a teaching certificate!!

  2. Mark Glennon says:

    Teachers will correctly point out that these numbers mix teachers up with administrators, who have higher pay and bigger pensions. That’s murky, though, because some teachers become administrators in their later years, which is a common source of spiking.

  3. Teresa says:

    Thank you for this great article. Here is what makes me blow a gasket (do they still have gaskets 😉 ! IL teachers and government pensions are 100% tax free!!! I am serious.
    this is egregious and so unfair. Your tiny Social Security pension is taxed but teachers waltz away with Millions in retirement income Tax-Free. Want to balance Illinois’ budget?? Start with taxing these pensions NOW! Please everyone write to Gov. Rauner and your local legislators. Together we can save our State! Thank you.

  4. […] needed or took excessive risk in hopes of coping. Meantime, politicians raised wages and therefore, related pensions. Some teachers are receiving six figure […]

  5. Bob says:

    Teresa, Get your facts straight!! I’m retired in Illinois and I pay federal income tax just like you!! No state tax though, but anyone in Florida gets the same break. Hey, if teaching is such an easy job and teacher are over paid, how come they can’t find enough people to fill all job openings. And I guess it’s ok for a sports figure to make millions and many of them can’t even make a complete sentence!!

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