Media Ignore New Report Showing Teachers Will Lose Thousands In Pensions

››› ››› HILARY TONE & ALBERT KLEINE

A report released last week showed that young public school teachers will forfeit thousands of dollars in pension wealth due to states' current pension policies. In the seven days since the report's release, broadcast nightly news, weekday evening cable news, and major print outlets have completely ignored its findings and its implications for the largest class of workers in the U.S.

New Report Shows States' Pension Policies Will Cost Young Public School Teachers Thousands

Bellwether Education Partners: "Each Year, Tens Of Thousands Of Teachers Will Leave The Profession With Very Little Retirement Savings." A report conducted by Bellwether Education Partners, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping public, private, and nonprofit education organizations become more effective, found that "policymakers are systematically disadvantaging" public school teachers, resulting in widespread "retirement insecurity" in a profession that claims the largest class of workers with bachelor's degrees [emphasis added]:

Collectively, the states are facing a $1.4 trillion shortfall for public sector pensions and benefits, and they are responding by increasing out-of-pocket costs for teachers and mandatory contributions from school districts and enacting punitive policies similar to those in Illinois. State and local governments have made their pension systems less friendly to young and mobile workers by lengthening vesting periods and creating separate, less generous plans for new employees.

This is not a marginal problem. Numbering 3.3 million, public school teachers constitute the largest class of workers in the country, and teaching is by far the largest profession made up of college-educated workers. In other words, policymakers are systematically disadvantaging our largest class of bachelor's-degree-equipped workers. Saving for retirement is a nationwide problem--a recent study found that 92 percent of households do not meet retirement savings targets for their age and income.3 Yet for most workers, public policies are not to blame for their lack of saving. For public school teachers, however, retirement insecurity is a problem resulting from poorly structured policies put in place over the past few decades state by state and city by city.

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In the median state, only 44.5 percent of new teachers will stay long enough to earn a minimum pension. Each year, tens of thousands of teachers will leave the profession with very little retirement savings, making it much harder for them to earn a secure retirement over their careers. [Bellwether Education Partners, "Friends Without Benefits," March 2014]

Education Week: Pension Policies "Could Put Teachers At Serious Financial Risk" Later In Life. The Teacher Beat blog at Education Week further illuminated the report's findings, writing that "states' current defined-benefit pension policies, which pay out according to a fixed formula, are not well aligned with a profession that has grown rapidly younger and more mobile," which "could put teachers at serious financial risk later on in their lives":

For the paper, analysts Chad Aldeman and Andrew Rotherham used "withdrawal" tables--state estimates on teacher-turnover rates--to estimate the percentage of teachers who will earn a pension in every state. They drew on each state's assumptions for female teachers aged 25 who began teaching after Aug. 1, 2013.

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Based on those assumptions, only 45 percent of teachers in the median state will qualify for payouts, a process that typically takes 5 years. And only 20 percent will reach the normal retirement age of 58.

That's a lot of money left on the table. Many teachers won't even meet the vesting requirements. And for those that don't, states typically allow teachers to take only the contributions they made into the pension plan if they leave the profession, or move to another state.[Education Week, Teacher Beat, 3/12/2014]

Media Ignore Report's Findings

Report Ignored Across Multiple Major Media Outlets. A Media Matters review of weekday evening cable news programs, broadcast evening news programs, and major print outlets from March 12 through March 18 found that no media outlet gave coverage to the Bellwether report or its findings for public teacher pensions. [See Methodology]

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Methodology

Media Matters conducted a Nexis search of transcripts of evening (defined as 5 p.m. through 11 p.m.) weekday programs on CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and network broadcast news on ABC, CBS, and NBC from March 12 through March 18. We identified and reviewed all segments that included the keyword "pension."

The following programs were included in the data: World News with Diane Sawyer, Evening News (CBS), Nightly News with Brian Williams, The Situation Room, Erin Burnett OutFront, Crossfire, Anderson Cooper 360Piers Morgan Live, The Five, Special Report with Bret Baier, The O'Reilly Factor, The Kelly File, Hannity, On the Record with Greta Van Susteren, The Ed Show, Hardball with Chris Matthews, Politics Nation with Al Sharpton, All In with Chris Hayes, The Rachel Maddow Show, and The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell. For shows that air re-runs, only the first airing was included in data retrieval.

Media Matters also conducted Nexis and Factiva (for The Wall Street Journal) searches for print articles in The New York TimesUSA Today, the Los Angeles TimesThe Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post between March 12, 2014, and March 18, 2014, using the search term "pension."

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