Full-career Los Angeles-area city retirees earn 42% more than residents’ average salary

For Immediate Release
Contact Robert Fellner, 559-462-0122, 201-206-6469 (cell)

Average Los Angeles-area CalPERS payout highest statewide

Full-career retirees of Los Angeles County municipalities received an average CalPERS pension worth 42 percent more than the average salary of area workers, according to just-released 2014 pension payout data from TransparentCalifornia.com. Full-career police and fire retirees took home an average pension worth nearly twice what area residents earned last year.

The over 600,000 records — obtained through a series of public records requests to the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) — reveals an average full-career pension of $75,266 for miscellaneous retirees, which includes all non-safety employees, and $100,657 for safety retirees for all Los Angeles County cities enrolled in CalPERS.

By contrast, the average full-time worker in the Los Angeles area earned $53,000 last year, according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics.

Cities in Los Angeles County had the highest average full-career pensions of any CalPERS agency statewide:

  • The City of Santa Fe Springs had the highest average for non-safety retirees at $113,040.
  • The City of El Segundo had the highest average for safety retirees at $124,254.
  • The cities of El Monte, Santa Fe Springs, Santa Monica and Pasadena each had average safety pensions over $118,000 each, placing them in the top 10 statewide.

The 3 largest CalPERS payouts to retirees from Los Angeles County agencies went to:

  1. Joaquin Fuster, UCLA retiree: $325,278,
  2. Stephen R. Maguin, former chief engineer and GM of the Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts: $304,661, and
  3. James F. Stahl, former chief engineer and GM of the Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts: $291,482.

“Average full-career pensions that significantly exceed the wages of most full-time workers shatters the myth that CalPERS only provides a modest level of retirement income,” said Robert Fellner, research director for Transparent California.

Fellner said such exorbitant benefits are the reason pension contributions are skyrocketing, “Retirement costs are directly related to the generosity of the benefits promised, and unfortunately, taxpayers are now being required to pay an equally exorbitant sum to help fund them.

“The City of El Monte, for example, pays a staggering 57 percent of pay to fund average $120,653 pensions for full-career safety retirees, an amount that is nearly five times greater than the median earnings of City residents.”

Average full-career pensions for largest Los Angeles-area agenciestop10LA

Fellner noted that the median contribution rate for all Los Angeles County cities — 20 percent for miscellaneous and 32 percent for safety employees — is significantly higher than the 6.3 percent that private employers pay for their employees’ retirement benefits, according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics.

Fellner warned that, “As high as the current rates are, CalPERS is projecting significant rate hikes over the next few years, which threatens to break already cash-strapped municipalities. What’s worse, weakening market conditions means rates will rise even further than anticipated.”

Statewide

The 2014 report contained 19,728 recipients with a monthly allowance of $8,333.34 or more — representing an annualized benefit of at least $100,000 — a nearly 35% increase from 2012’s report.

The average pension for full-career miscellaneous and safety CalPERS retirees was $65,148 and $85,724, respectively.

The top three 2014 CalPERS pension payouts went to:

  1. Michael D Johnson, former Solano County administrator: $375,990,
  2. Joaquin Fuster, UCLA retiree: $325,278, and
  3. Donald Gerth, former Cal State at Sacramento president: $305,002.

The top 10 CalPERS agencies with the highest average pensions reveals retirement income that can more than double the earnings of full-time, working residents:

10 largest average full-career non-safety CalPERS pensions by employertop10misc1
10 largest average full-career safety CalPERS pensions by employertop10safe1

A full-career for miscellaneous retirees is defined as at least 35 years of service, the minimum required to qualify for Social Security benefits without penalty, while a full-career for safety employees is defined as 30 years or more.

Despite accounting for only 11 percent of service retirees, it is necessary to look at full-career pensions to accurately gauge the system, according to Fellner.

“Just as one assumes a 40-hour work week when comparing salaries, any discussion of pensions implicitly assumes a full-career.

“Furthermore, the disproportionally greater pensions for those who work a full-career reveal an inequity within CalPERS. Part of the generosity of the full-career benefits comes at the expense of partial-career retirees, who receive disproportionally smaller benefits.”

Fellner concluded, “With retirement costs expanding to as much as ten times what private employers are paying, maintaining the status quo is extremely irresponsible. It’s particularly indefensible to force taxpayers to bear the entire cost for the recklessness of union-backed officials who gambled on sky-high investment returns, lost, and now expect taxpayers to bail them out.”

To view the entire dataset in a searchable and downloadable format, visit TransparentCalifornia.com.

To schedule an interview with Transparent California, please contact Robert Fellner at 559-462-0122 or Robert@TransparentCalifornia.com.

Transparent California is California’s largest and most comprehensive database of public sector compensation and is a project the Nevada Policy Research Institute, a nonpartisan, free-market think tank. Learn more at TransparentCalifornia.com.