Wait until next year! When the U.S. Census Bureau released its 2015 data on public education finance last month, I thought that instructional (ie. teacher) wages and benefits per 20 students in the New York City public schools might exceed $300,000 for that year. But instead it came it came up just short at $297,482. Moreover, total spending per student in the NYC schools also came up just short of Greenwich, Connecticut, at $25,068 compared with $25,737. Thought NYC did spend more per student than Westport ($23,798) or Darien ($20,805).
Those are among the tidbits that can be gleaned from my compilation of this data, for 2015 and (with an adjustment for inflation) 2005. As is my custom, I’m going to provide the spreadsheets now, think about them for a while, and then provide my analysis and express my opinion. The data presented includes revenues and expenditures per student, by category, for the U.S., New York City and other regions of New York State, selected other states, and every school district in New York and New Jersey. In some cases with and without an adjustment for the higher cost of living on the Northeast corridor, which reduces the value of school spending here compared with the U.S. average. A discussion of where the data comes from and how it was tabulated (mostly copied from last year) and links to the new spreadsheets, follow.
In 2016, according to data reported to the U.S. Census Bureau, the New York City Employees Retirement System (NYCERS) had 263,235 active members who were working, and 149,940 beneficiaries receiving periodic benefit payments, a ratio that implies just 1.75 years worked for each year in retirement. And it is much less than that if workers who depart early in their careers and don’t receive pension benefits are excluded. That year, the New York City Police Pension Fund Article 2 and the New York City Fire Department Article 1B Pension fund combined had just 45,047 active members working and yet had 66,374 beneficiaries receiving active pension benefit payments, a ratio that implies a little over two-thirds of a year work for each year in retirement.
In 2016, New York City taxpayers contributed $3.4 billion to NYCERS. NYC taxpayers also contributed $3.4 billion to the police and fire pension funds, the same amount even though NYCERS covered nearly six times as many city workers. According to City of New York budget documents, in FY 2018 taxpayer pension contributions equaled 52.5% of wages and salaries for the NYC Police Department, where most workers are covered by the New York City Police Pension Fund Article 2, and 71.8% of wages and salaries for the New York City Fire Department, with most workers covered by the Fire Department Article 1B Pension Fund. But just 13.0% to 17.0% for the most of the non-uniformed city agencies, with workers covered by NYCERS. What is more, and what is worse, is that the current level of NYC taxpayer pension contributions to the police and fire pension plans are not enough.
New York City and New Jersey, like most places, have separate pension plans for teachers, police officers, and firefighters, and large general pension plans for all other public employees combined. This post is about updated Census Bureau data, for the years 1957 to 2016, for the general pension plans: the New York City Employees Retirement System (NYCERS), which also covers New York City transit workers, the New York (state) Public Employees Pension and Retirement System, which also covers local government workers (including police officers and firefighters) in the rest of New York State, and the New Jersey Public Employees Retirement System, which covers most public employees in New Jersey. In general the findings are the same as they were the last time I analyzed this data.
It has been a few years, however, so I have decided to repeat the analysis and update the charts below, and add a further discussion on hedge funds and the rate of return at the end. The data shows a pension disaster not only for New Jersey, where taxpayers have contributed very little over the years, but also for New York City, where taxes are high and taxpayers have contributed massively. The New York State system is in somewhat better shape – but in much worse shape than a decade ago.
Last year, when I went to update the tables I had compiled of U.S. Census Bureau data on public employee pensions over the decades, I found that the City of New York had started misreporting data for the NYC teacher pension fund.
Reporting to the Bureau that the teachers’ own money in their Tax Deferred Annuity (TDA) accounts was actually pension fund money, to make the pension fund deficit seem less disastrous. And not reporting the payments from the actual pension fund to those TDA accounts as pension benefits, to make teacher pensions seem less costly than they actually are. I spoke with the Bureau about this, and they told me that they intended to speak with NYC about it, but no corrections would be made until this year. So I chose not to finish updating the tables and write posts.
This year I downloaded the data, and found the same errors. The Bureau told me it had intended to make a correction, but the incorrect data had “crept back in.” But if I waited until next year at this time, surely the data will be corrected. But instead of waiting another year, I decided to use the Annual Report of the NYC Teachers Retirement System to correct the data myself. The results are in the spreadsheets linked and available for download below.
I don’t know if anyone in NY has noticed, but a generational revolt in France has wiped out all of what had been the major parties and their politicians. A brand new party with a 39-year-old leader is in charge.
Last December I wrote a quick post expressing concern that the U.S. might have reached peak transparency, now that the Democratic Party, as a result of the rising burden of public employee pensions, has turned against the dissemination of accurate, factual information about government and society. Joining the Republicans, who have been against providing access to such information for a couple of decades.
Since then I’ve seen the same concern expressed by many others, now that Donald Trump, hardly Mr. Transparency himself, is President, with reports of government bureaucrats spiriting away statistical information to a secure location before the change of regime, lest it be deleted. Even so, I’m always on the hunt for alternative sources of actual facts, and this January I happened to think of one – the Social Security Administration. And wrote a letter to the Deputy Chief of the Office of Long-Range Actuarial Estimates, the office “responsible for estimates for up to 75 years in the future, based on economic/demographic assumptions developed for the annual Trustees Report.”
I didn’t receive an answer. Given that people need to keep their jobs until they can collect their pensions, and having worked for the government for 20 years myself and knowing what it’s like, I didn’t expect one. It is fair to say that I wrote the letter that follows for the purpose of publishing it on this blog after a reasonable period of waiting for a response had passed.
I was upset that a summary table that showed how much NYC spends on the largest government functions, including debt service and pensions, and how much of this is funded by locally-raised money, was removed from NYC’s “Budget Summary” documents.
But there is good news. The table, albeit without a column for spending by agency on judgments and claims and without a comparison with prior years, is back in a more detailed document that came out later, the latest “Message of the Mayor,” page 81.
And that allowed me to easily update the tables and charts I produced last year comparing FY2014, Mayor Bloomberg’s last budget year, with FY 2017, as proposed. A spreadsheet with the tables and charts for FY 2007, FY 2014 and FY 2018 as proposed is attached below.
But in the rest of this post, I’d like to review the “Unsaid” about Detroit’s bankruptcy and New York City’s recovery from the 1970s, and their relevance to NYC today. Because in my view, despite all that was written and said about those two past events, few have identified the most important reasons why they actually happened.