There are three major Retirement Systems (RS) managed by American governments: one for privately-employed workers (Social Security); one for State workers and one for federal workers. When we compare the three, using using equal earnings histories for each category – we find that retirement checks amount to $1500 for privately-employed; $7,100-$7,950 for state-employed; and, $4,500 to $5,200 for federal-employed.
This disparity is made more obvious by the fact that a privately-employed person would require total earnings near $22 million (over 40 years) to receive retirement checks equal to what the state-employed person receives with earnings of $1.45 million (over 40 years), using current formulas for computing retirement amounts for each category. Of course, the privately-employed, as taxpayer, ultimately pays for everything. It raises the question,
It raises the question,
Is Social Security Shortchanging Taxpayers?
Natural-law copyright by Anthony Hargis
(Copyright notice: to lawfully reproduce all or part of this article, the following attribution must be included: “Natural-law copyright by Anthony Hargis, redressone.wordpress.com)
Europeans have proved men to be naturally wolves, yet they will assert that “men owe everything to education. [Thus, telling us, without a blush, they educate men to be wolves.] The minds of children are like blank paper, upon which you may write any characters you please.” Thus will they every day refute the fundamental principles upon which their laws are built, and yet not grow a jot the wiser. [Brackets added]
Coram, Robert, 1791 (fought in Revolutionary War)
American Political Writings During the Founding Era, Hyneman and Lutz, 757.
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There are two major Retirement Systems (RS) in the United States: one for those employed privately (provided by SSAdmin) and one for those employed by public entities; these latter are known as “Public Employees Retirement Systems” (PERS); and are divided between Federal (FERS) and state entities (governments, special districts, public schools, universities et cetera) For example, see, Of Lords and Cattle., for an examination of PERS for California.
They are similar in only one aspect: both require contributions by worker and employer. However, under federal and state systems, some public employees (police, fire fighters, maybe others) pay a reduced “contribution” or nothing, the employer (that is, taxpayers) pay both sides.
In the case of federal employees, (“FERS calcu”, hereafter) those privileged for reduced “contributions” include “Air Traffic Controllers, Firefighters, Law-Enforcement Officers, Capitol Police, Supreme Court Police, or Nuclear-Materials Couriers… [and] Members of Congress or Congressional employees.”
Beyond that aspect, differences between the two are striking; they create a situation by which privately-employed taxpayers are progressively punished as their earnings increase (with the income tax); and regressively compensated when they retire. That is, as their earnings increase, less is returned to them during retirement.
Now, who is interested in this issue? It should be of interest to all privately employed taxpayers, whether actively employed, or retired. Both are negatively affected by what legislators and bureaucrats have done. The active worker is paying taxes with the expectation that he will collect retirement checks in the future. What can he expect in this regard, to be treated fairly… or to be cheated?
In the examination that follows, both active and retired taxpayers will learn how badly they are treated. Clear evidence will be given that indicates that most bureaucrats regard such taxpayers as little better than talking cattle.
And, I think it is time to properly respond to this attitude, and to design, and implement, a correction.
Employment required for qualification
Regarding the Retirement System (RS) for privately employed, a participant has to pay into the system for at least 10 years and becomes eligible for retirement checks at the age of 66 for “full” retirement amount; at age 62, for 75% of “full” amount.
Under PERS, a public employee can qualify for retirement after one year for state and the same for federal RS (which gives him access to only what he paid into the system); at age 50 or 55, depending on category of employment, he would qualify for “full” retirement.
Formulas for retirement amounts
The most striking difference are the formulas by which retirement amounts are calculated.
Under state Retirement Systems (RS), monthly retirement checks are based on the final year’s earnings plus any unused benefits, namely,
jury duty (along with travel and per diem);
long-term disability insurance;
mileage: “for authorized use of private vehicle”;
military: “leave with [full] pay”;
stand-by: “for being on stand-by”;
raises: “at least 5% on each anniversary date”;
time off for examinations;
travel and per diem for conferences held at various recreation spots such as Las Vegas, Hawaii, Miami et cetera; the conference may last four hours, but the travel and per diem cover the entire weekend;
This list of benefits is copied from the City of Garden Grove “Memoranda of Understanding” for the year 2000; also, see, Of Lords and Cattle.
The law that controls what unused benefits are eligible as compensation for purposes of retirement benefits is characteristically unclear. The Public Employee Pension Reform Act (PEPRA,) effective 2013 Jan 1, attempts to restrict such unused benefits relative to “new employees” as of the effective date.
Its purpose seems to be an attempt to appear to make reforms while in fact it does nothing of the sort. At Section 7522.02 (e), we find,
If a public employer, before Jan 1, 2013, offers a retirement benefit plan that consists solely of a defined contribution plan, that employer may continue to offer that plan instead of the defined benefit pension plan required by this article.
Gee, wouldn’t we like to see this kind of language in tax codes? Just imagine,
If a citizen offers a definition of “individual” that exempts “white citizens” from the definition of “individual” for purposes of the Income Tax, that citizen may pursue his business as if the IRS did not exist. See, Plantation America.
Back to the main topic.
So, for purposes of the following examination, ‘What is a reasonable amount of unused benefits that we can use to calculate a California employee’s final pay?’
Fortunately, CalPERS is quite obliging in this regard. From its website, I assembled this very limited sampling of data (I omitted employees’ names).
Table 1: A limited sampling of pay and benefits for 3 California cities.
The main thing to notice here is the very last line, “Average benefits…” I’m assuming benefits in question are those accumulated during the year in question (2014); and not unused benefits. So, I’ll be real generous and assume that only one half of this average of $44,181.66 (one half = $22,090) will be saved for the final year of employment for each state worker that retires.
We’ll save this number for later use.
Basis of Calculation
For our demonstration, the “basis amount” is the first item to be determined; it is the amount from which retirement checks are determined.
For each category, I constructed a fairly realistic wage history over 40 years that had an ending wage of 83,998; for purposes of our examination, $7,000 per month. This example is identical for each category, and consists of a person who retired in 2014 at the age of 66 and who had worked for forty years. The total earnings (over the forty years) for each adds to $1,426,090. To account for effects of inflation, these earnings are indexed according to the Average Wage as published by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.
For those privately-employed: the basis (for computing retirement amounts) consists of an average of the highest 35 years of the 40, or $3,395 per month.
For state employees: the basis is final year’s salary; or $84,000 regular pay plus unused benefits of $22,090, for a total of $8,840 per month.
Federal employee: the basis is derived from the average of the Highest Three (HT) consecutive years. In this case (federal status), there are two possibilities: one (Status 1): an employee who starts and ends as a grunt bureaucrat; two (Status 2): an employee who serves twenty years as a grunt bureaucrat and twenty years as a Capitol Police or some other privileged “public servant”. According to the federal formula, and our “identical” wage profile, the basis for each status is $6,642.
Federal judges, however, are special: one “may retire and will then earn his final salary for the remainder of his life, plus cost-of-living increases.” Their annual salaries range from $201,100 to $258,100; or, $16,750 / m to $$21,500 / m.
Calculation of Retirement Amount
Privately employed: The formula by which this is done involves two so-called “Bend Points”, which are $761 and $4,586 for our example; if years in which ages of 60 and 62 are attained are different from our example, the indexing and these Bend Points would be different.
We start with the “basis amount”, or $3,395. The amount up to the first Bend Point ($761) is multiplied by 90%, (yielding $684.90).
The amount between bend point one and basis amount ($761 and $3,395) is multiplied by 32% (yielding $843.02)
If there had been an amount over Bend Point 2 ($4,586), it would have been multiplied by 15%.
We next add the two numbers for the monthly retirement amount, $1,527.92; however, we are instructed to round down for the actual amount.
State employee: the basis amount ($8,840) converts to $7,073 (or $7,957 per month depending on several factors: 80% or 90% of final year).
Monthly amounts of retirement checks (for California; (other states may vary)) are determined by multiplying final pay by 1.25% to 3% for each year of service, with maximums of 80% to 90% of final pay, these numbers are determined by a) category of service: local (city, county, special district, public school or university) or state employee; b) office worker or law-enforcement/firefighter; c) legislator, department head or judge; d) duration of service and e) age of retirement.
Grunt bureaucrats can take down retirement checks ranging between $4,000 and $7,000 per month. Judges, professors and department heads look forward to monthly retirement checks ranging above $15,000.
You should take notice that professors share in this booty; and can be trusted to have no interest in reducing it.
Also, we should notice that state employees get to round up to the nearest dollar.
Federal employees are mandated to participate in both the federal program FERS and Social Security. Their obligation is a seven percent deduction from their regular pay checks. This deduction pays for both these programs: 6.2% for Social Security and 0.8 per cent for FERS.
Their retirement amounts are determined by multiplying their “basis amount” by 1.1% for each year of grunt service and 1.7% for each year of “privileged” service.
So, for Status1, we multiply the “basis amount” by .011 times 40 for a grunt bureaucrat, yielding $2,922.45; and for Status2, we multiply .011 and .017 by twenty and add them, yielding, $3,719.49. These are monthly amounts,
Now, we need to calculate Social Security amounts and add them to the above totals. Since our examples use identical earnings, Social Security amounts will also be equal, that is, $1,527. Add this to each total in the previous paragraph and we get, monthly retirement checks for Status1 of $4,449.45; and for Status2 of $5,246.49.
Table 2: Summary of calculations.
In the table above, “Retire / m” means, “Retirement amount per month”.
The following line represents the retirement per month as a percentage of the final year amount (not the “basis amount”).
An interesting question here is, ‘What total earnings (over 40 years) is required to equalize the retirement monthly amount for each category?”
For a) a privately-employed person to qualify for a retirement amount of $7,956, his total earnings would have to add to slightly less than $21,600,000; b) the state employee, $1,523,906 (that’s right, about one fourteenth the amount for a privately-employed person); c) the federal employee, $2,987,000. (See Table above)
Could the deck be stacked more heavily against the privately-employed person?
It should be noted: CalPERS is only one of many public retirement systems available for California public workers: there are also a) The University of California Retirement Plan, b) 21 California counties; c) 17 cities and special districts; d) 2 Judges’ RS; e) Legislators’ RS and f) the State Teachers’ RS. There may be more. I elaborate only slightly more in my essay, Of Lords and Cattle.
All three retirement systems offer “Disability Insurance”. Thus, with a few acting classes and a few appropriate props (cane, beat-up wheel chair, a friend or relative who pretends to be a care-giver), anyone can qualify for DI.
The only thing to notice here is that when state or federal retirees get on disability, the burden is passed on to taxpayers.
Thus, in addition to regular pension payments, state employees can qualify for “disability retirement” with additional amounts equal to 1.8% of final pay for each year of service, or a monthly allowance of 30%; with maximums of 33.3% to 50% of final pay (PDF pages 154-6 of California Annual Report 2014).
On the federal level, there are two federal RS: one for employees hired before 1984 (CSRS) and those hired 1984 or later (FERS). The former qualify for disability after “5 years of creditable… service” and such benefits are limited to amounts “equal to the higher of” 2 alternatives, which could range between 40% and 100% of their “retirement” benefit – as near as I can interpret their language. The latter qualify with 18 months of service and “disability benefits are generally 60% of the average of the highest-three consecutive years of salary”; the total comprised of FERS and SSA disability.
Thus, a good-acting state or federal bureaucrat could retire with monthly checks of 110% to 140% of his final pay.
When we examine all relevant facts concerning public employee retirement systems, it becomes clear that taxpayers fund everything.
A very little known example of this is done thru so-called “Pension Obligation Bonds”, or POB’s.
In the early 1990’s, a California court ruled that California’s many PERS were inadequately funded relative to future obligations, and the court ordered that California RS assets had to be brought to 100% (or more) of future liabilities.
We could hardly say this ruling was constitutional, which requires a judge without a conflict of interest. The judge(s) was enrolled in one of the PERS affected by his ruling.
Nevertheless, Orange County government responded by selling $300 million in POB’s, and the proceeds were turned over to the Orange County PERS – not CalPERS.
Such bonds were carried on the Asset statement for the Orange County balance sheet for several years – the financial department didn’t know how to get them off the books.
Eventually, the item disappeared from the balance sheet; and the chief accountant explained the brilliant idea that made it possible: simply expense the amount against tax receipts. After all, isn’t that what taxpayers are for?
Another little known tactic of Public retirement systems relates to performance of systems’ investment portfolio. Included in this portfolio we find many categories: “Domestic Cash Equivalents”, “International Currency”, “Derivatives”, “Mortgage-Backed Securities”, “Domestic (and International) Equities”, “Domestic (and International) Real Estate” – it’s quite a list. The one for “Domestic Equities” runs 77 pages, and totals $80 billion as of the end of 2014. See PDF pages 114-191.
When any of the various categories shows a loss for the year, members of the RS almost maniacally petition the state legislature to make up for the year’s loss – by shifting it onto taxpayers. On the other hand, when a category shows a profit for the year, members are content to quietly stuff it in their pockets.
There seems to be something useful about these efforts to protect members’ retirement checks. We’ll visit this idea shortly.
To say the least, something is wrong with these retirement systems; and this wrong adversely impacts every person in the country who is not on the state or federal gravy train.
The set of formulas used to compute retirement checks represents several constitutional violations: unequal protection of law; the Founding-Era proscription against using government coercion to enrich one man (or group of men) at the expense of other men; the natural-law dictum against compelling a man to finance his enemies, and probably more.
What kind of redress is possible for this grievance? I suppose the first attempt should be actions in existing courts; if that fails, then we utilize the power available to us thru assemblies.
What should we aim at? I can only name a few: a) a correction of retirement amounts and compensation for such; b) a provision to allow voluntary enrollment; c) recovery of what was paid into the SSA account plus foregone interest; d) a provision to allow actions by survivors of those who die without redress (rights descend as easily as property); e) sponsor people for city, county and state public office who will immediately distribute surpluses at each level to taxpayers; that is, non-welfare recipients (as of 2001, such surpluses in California divided out to $20,000 to $40,000 for every man, woman and child in the state; the second number includes items listed in notes to balance sheets).
One possibility here is related to above remarks about pension obligation bonds: as public employees did not hesitate to stiff taxpayers for losses on their investments, so we can reverse this operation: penalize public employees for their past plundering of taxpayers.
I hesitate to elaborate on particular corrections here because I don’t want the other side to learn my arguments until they read them in my complaint.
As I’ve noted above, the issue examined in this article adversely affects every privately-employed taxpayer in the country – whether actively employed or retired. And the choice is, a) become involved in some meaningful corrective action (with time, skill or money) or b) prepare for practical economic destruction by federal or state bureaucrats; for, as far as they are concerned, taxpayers are contractually obligated to pay taxes to maintain pension payments to such bureaucrats.
As of the year 2012, the unfunded liability of the California Public Employees Retirement System was $131.4 billion: that is, the shortage between RS assets and existing liabilities. This total divides out to $3,587 for each man, woman and child in the state.
This total obligation [of 20 California counties]… is based on official rates of [investment] return of 7.5% [and rates of inflation and interest that are characteristically more rosy than realistic], which… if not attained, will result in far higher calculations of underfunding for pensions… And, of course, it only represents the costs for county workers – within those counties, taxpayers are also responsible for the unfunded pension and healthcare liabilities – and retirement related [pension obligation] bond debt – for those working for the local cities, as well as all workers within their counties who are employed by public schools, local colleges and universities, other public agencies, and the state. [Bold and Brackets added]
When we consult later annual reports (CalPERS, 2014 and CalSTRS (State public Teachers), 2015), we find total unfunded liabilities of just under $200 billion, not counting local colleges and universities and other public agencies. It also does not include unfunded liabilities of the 58 local California PERS. This $200 billion divides out to a total “taxpayer obligation” of $5,460 for every man, woman, and child in the state. For a family of four, that’s almost $22,000.
Forecasts by bureaucrats are notorious for wildly-optimistic – and scatter-brained – assumptions, as I have demonstrated elsewhere (Confusions and Confessions of Treasury). This means the projected shortfall for California will be somewhat higher than $200 billion; which, of course, would make the “obligation” greater for each man, woman, and child in the state.
More, this state-sponsored review of the pension problem introduces taxpayer obligation with “of course”, as if no discussion were necessary. Indeed, when remedies are addressed, the competition between tax collector and child for coins in a man’s pocket is always bad news for the child. Another validation of a major verdict of history: taxes are always paid by the weakest members of society.
According to a 2013 report by Morningstar, an independent financial research group, most states’ pension plans continued to be funded below the 80 percent level considered necessary for a healthy fund. Decreased funding and increasing liabilities since the 2008 recession continued to put pressure on local and state budgets, in some cases leading to bankruptcy. Higher pension costs can have the following consequences… a) higher taxes; b) less intergovernmental aid for services; c) lower credit ratings; d) higher interest rates on state borrowing.
What ratios are we dealing with here? From the same source as above, we find that benefits paid by CalPERS to its members are 7% funded by those members and the rest, 93%, is paid by taxpayers (pages 146-148); this does not include numbers from California’s other 62 retirement systems. Percentages are similar for other states: for Hawaii, taxpayers pay 76%; Nevada, 93%; Oregon, 98+%; Washington, 66%. And federal bureaucrats pay for 3% of their RS; taxpayers, 97%.. See, pages 25-6.
At the federal level, table 1 (on page 23 of the federal civil service annual report) lists “Present value of future liabilities”, it divides “Total accrued benefits” (measured with present-value dollars) by available assets (commonly used dollars), which yields a 51% coverage ratio. Using their data, formulas, and assumptions, I correct their policy of adding apples and fence posts, and get a coverage ratio of 5.7%.
At page 10, we find, “All Fund investments are in interest-bearing U. S. Treasury securities…” These are only good so far as the U.S. Treasury is able to collect taxes from following generations of Americans. As this ability drops to zero, the coverage ratio also drops to zero. See pages 23 and 10.
What happens as Americans learn how badly they have been used?
So, the general plunder of taxpayers is well under way. The main reason it is tolerated is that the financing is done by mortgaging unborn Americans to satisfy the greed of current tax consumers. Under current policies, we will shortly see 70% to 80% of the federal budget devoted to supporting PERS at all levels – even if it requires grinding to dust every taxpayer in the nation. (Based on my examination of annual reports of cities, counties and states (that is, “all levels”), I estimate that all of them derive from 30% to 50% of their revenue from federal taxes.)
Please notice: this bureaucrat-sponsored examination of state pension systems made it fairly clear that a reduction of pension payments is not considered as a possible correction for the pension problem.
SSA Trust Fund
This should be compared to what bureaucrats recommend about the pending bankruptcy of Social Security. According to estimates by the SSAdmin, benefit payments will exceed tax collections during the year 2034. This means that adjustments would have to be made to keep the system from collapsing. Said bureaucrats listed possible options: a) reduce government expenses; b) raise taxes, c) more government debt; d) reduce benefits, or e) any combination of the foregoing.
You may notice, that, as far as federal employees and privilege seekers are concerned, their monthly checks and privileges must not to be touched; but privately-employed persons are subject to new taxes or reduced retirement checks.
In other words, those who have managed the SS Trust Fund, never intended to redeem its non-marketable securities. The trust fund was always regarded by useless and criminal classes as a pool of free money, available for any unbaked scheme to raid the public treasury. They do not perpetrate theft or genocide with the idea they will hang or drown themselves later.
An option that is never allowed discussion (by bureaucrats, judges, legislators, privilege holders and professors) is return of the money lent to the US Treasury.
For most of previous decades, SSA surpluses produced a feeding frenzy among crack-pots, munitions makers, international banks and privilege seekers. It was a feeding frenzy because it was so easy to authorize payments to these seekers of booty since legislators didn’t have to raise taxes to finance such disbursements of cash; they just had to wait for such plunderers to promise appropriate bribes to legislators (and family members), and then vote for related appropriations.
The redress I propose involves two major actions a) adjust Social Security retirement benefits to a more realistic return of investment; and b) conduct an investigation to identify recipients of appropriations (along with all those who gave them “aid and comfort”) that had no related tax increase, and then prosecute those recipients for return of booty taken by them.
This ‘investigation and recovery’ will not be easy, nor quick; but it is the only one that is just.
I am now working with a lawyer to prepare an action to seek the above redress. If it is to be successful, it will require other people to become co-parties. There are many reasons for this: a) if I am accidented or suicided, the action at law will not be affected; b) it will be a complicated project to complete, and I’ll need a wide variety of help; c) judgment may be limited to co-parties, and no one else.
In the meantime, for those who want redress for this particular grievance, the least that can be done at this time is to distribute this article as widely as possible.
The basis of their position hinges on the nature of contractual obligations; and that taxpayers are on one side of the contract and bureaucrats are on the other. But there are no facts that support this position: taxpayers were never consulted, never provided with full disclosure, among other requirements. Despite this, bureaucrats imagine that terms of their pension systems are protected by the constitutional provision that forbids the impairment of contractual obligations.
On the other hand, relative to the Social Security retirement program we are discussing the so-called OASDI, “Old Age and Survivors Disability Insurance” program. “Insurance” is a specialized kind of contract. Hence, OASDI is either a contractual obligation (and its terms cannot (constitutionally) be impaired), or the whole system is based on fraud.
What’s the bottom line? If we leave correction in the hands of bureaucrats, politicians or professors, the general plunder of American taxpayers will continue until such taxpayers are ground to dust.
So, again, the choice for every privately-employed taxpayer is involvement in correction, or confiscatory taxes.
Now, every visitor, or reader, has to decide whether I have creditable solutions and methods of redress. There is much to learn about this topic; and I suggest each of my related articles for that purpose, ‘Who Owns City Hall?,’ ‘Of Lords and Cattle’, and ‘A Tale of Two Bribes.’
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