A panel of experts hosted by the Department of Labor Studies and Employment Relations, discussed Pennsylvania pension reform last night in 101 Chambers Building.
Paul Whitehead, Penn State professor of labor studies and employment relations, moderated the panel.
Diane Oakley, executive director of the National Institute on Retirement Security, kicked off the evening’s discussion by giving an overview of the benefits of solid pension plans.
Pension plans are only available to employees who work for the state or public schools, Oakley said, but solid pension plans can benefit more than just those individuals receiving compensation.
“The taxpayers want the public sector to be provided for. They want to make sure that they are safe and that they have first responders who are able to protect them,” Oakley said.
Stephen Herzenberg, executive director for the Keystone Research Center, discussed pension in relation to Gov. Tom Corbett’s proposed reforms.
Corbett’s proposed reform, which would be similar to 401(k) plans in the private sector, would increase Pennsylvania’s already hefty pension debt, Herzenberg said.
The proposed reform would not only be fiscally irresponsible, but might not even be legal, he said.
“Corbett’s plan would cut pension for current employees, which the courts have been very clear cannot be done,” Herzenberg said.
Employees in the public sector, such as firefighters, police officers and teachers earn less than their counterparts in the private sector and a pension cut would put them at an even greater economic disadvantage, he said.
Gerri Madrid-Davis, an expert on state level retirement policy who works for the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), concluded the evening by emphasizing that the under-funding of the pension program in Pennsylvania is a very complex issue.
“This is not a pension crisis, it is a budget and revenue crisis,” Madrid-Davis said.
Increasing private savings by providing easily accessible programs to employees in both the public and private sectors is critical to economic growth, she said.
The fact that one in six Americans older than 65 are currently living in poverty is not only detrimental to the well-being of these citizens, but hurts the economy as a whole and shows that reform is crucial, she said.
Alex Loder (junior-supply chain and information systems) said she attended the event for a class, but was very interested to learn more about the topic after watching members of her family struggle with retirement.
“I want to know when I need to start saving, and the steps that I need to take so that I can have a stable retirement,” Loder said.