At 23 years old, only 18 months out of college, and with hefty pile of student debt, you could say I’m living the typical “Millennial” experience. My work is important part of my life, as are my family and social circle. However, recently a new topic has started to brew toward the forefront of many of my thoughts and decisions – retirement security.
It might seem odd for someone my age to be concerned about what happens in the realm of retirement security, but one thing I’ve learned recently is that somehow, everybody has some skin in this game.
I learned of my personal tie to the discussion around retirement security, not from my own vested interest in being prepared for life after work, but being prepared now, to protect the retirements of those closest to me.
My grandparents are two retired educators, each with at least 30 years of public service in the field of education. My grandmother ran English immersion programs, both in the classroom and at the district level for 30 years. My grandfather taught many subjects to middle and high school students for almost a decade before moving into administration and becoming a principal for 20 years.
While both of my grandparents maintained different paths and careers in K-12 education here in Phoenix, they did have one major thing in common. Over the course of their respective careers, they each paid into the Arizona State Retirement System for 30 years, securing a defined benefit pension for life.
The Arizona State Retirement System (ASRS), whose members include public school employees, university and community college staff, and other government workers, provides a defined benefit pension plan to its members. Employees pay into the retirement system over the course of their career through payroll deductions that are matched, 50/50, by the employer.
Defined benefit pension plans like ASRS provide a much more secure retirement plan as they don’t rely on the stock market for their success the way defined contribution plans, or 401Ks, do. They are also guaranteed to life, so you won’t outlive your benefit.
My grandparents each receive a modest benefit each month from their pension, and as a grandson, it comforts me that their ASRS benefit will be there for the rest of their lives. Many elderly citizens in this country are sliding into poverty after burning through their retirement savings or 401ks. They are becoming dependent on public assistance programs and their children or grandchildren to pay for such necessities as housing and medicine. Many Americans are now at risk of heading into this retirement crisis. Now Millennials shouldn’t be concerned about moving back in with their parents or grandparents, but them having to move in with you. The livelihoods of those who raised you are literally at stake.
Anybody who dedicates their life to public service and improving the lives of others the way my grandparents have deserves to retire with dignity and security. With their retirement secure, they will continue to add to the local economy and be a benefit to their community instead of a burden to the taxpayers.
Wall Street interests will continue to attack public pensions this coming year as they have been for so many to switch employees out of defined benefit public pension systems and into defined contribution 401Ks, where they make the money.
Attempts like this, and similar to Proposition 487 in 2014, to switch new or current employees into defined contribution systems and out of stable defined benefit systems like ASRS threaten secure systems and can cost taxpayers millions. I won’t let this happen to my family and will stand to protect ASRS and public pensions in my state. Will you?
Grant Wood lives in Phoenix.