Average full-career CalPERS pension worth 20% more than average Californian’s salary

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

California’s full-career retirees received an average CalPERS pension worth 20 percent more than the average Californian’s salary, according to just-released 2014 pension payout data from TransparentCalifornia.com. Full-career safety retirees took home an average pension worth 59 percent more than the average salary.

The over 600,000 records — obtained through a series of public records requests to the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) ­— reveals the average pension for full-career miscellaneous retirees, which includes all non-safety employees, and safety retirees was $65,148 and $85,724, respectively.

By contrast, the average full-time California worker earned $53,890 last year, according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics.

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

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.

Retirees from local agencies — cities, towns, special districts, etc. — earned significantly more than state retirees:

Average 2014 full-career CalPERS pension by employer type

“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 that 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.”

Sacramento Valley

The 3 largest CalPERS payouts to Sacramento Valley retirees went to:

  1. James T Eastman Jr, Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District retiree: $288,503,
  2. Robert J Mcdonell, Woodland City retiree: $243,020, and
  3. James R Shetler, former assistant general manager of the Sacramento Municipal Utility District: $226,542.

Average full-career pension for Sacramento Valley employers

Fellner noted that the median contribution for the largest Sacramento Valley agencies — 23 percent for miscellaneous and 37 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.”


The top 10 CalPERS agencies with the highest average pensions are displayed below, along with the current employer contribution rate and the median 2013 earnings for full-time, year-round workers of the respective area:

10 largest average full-career non-safety CalPERS pensions by employer

10 largest average full-career safety CalPERS pensions by employer

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 inequitywithin 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.

Categories: 2015, Press Releases

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12 replies »

  1. For me a more meaningful comparison would be to compare the 30 year public sector employee retirement pay with the average pay level of 30 year still working public sector employees and also with private sector workers who are still working at 30 years or more. In other words, use the same number of year to compare each group. Also, the perceived inequity between retirement benefits for long term vs. shorter term employees is by design in order to incentivize long careers. Nothing wrong with that goal.


    • The thing that is wrong is it is tax money being used to over pay some gov employees. Fat pensions are pervasive in most cities. Most city jobs are not highly skilled and there are plenty of people that would be willing to accept less and do a better job. The job pay should be based upon supply and demand and education and experience needed. Unions have pushed that way out of wack by forcing more money to those that don’t deserve it.


    • The reality is that you don’t have to have long careers in government jobs to retire. Case in point a city of LA employee retires after 16 years in his early 50’s when they include 9 years of military service. The tax payer is on the hook to support him and his family until he dies. That in this case is about13 years earlier than when a private sector is eligible for retirement at 66. What is wrong with making all government retirements commence not before the employee reaches 66 and the employee may not work another government job and be eligible for retirement benefits for the second job. How much government retirement income should a tax payer have to pay for?


    • What happened to Calpers Nursing Home and Assisted Living/Residential Care? Are we financing this high salary for workers? My Calpers Long-Term Care has increased 85%.


  2. I am fed up with government retirements as well as salaries. They get sick pay huge vacation pay they can’t get fired no mater how little work they do nor whether they do the work they are paid to do. I am 68 and am still working. I want to make sure that I pay enough taxes to cover their over compensations.


  3. let me educate you on a few things here regarding us (ME) a safety employee: in my career as a firefighter I will work (56 hour work week) a full 12 years of time longer than any other 40hr/week person, I will likely end up with cancer or some other deadly disease, and I will have risked my life (literally!) hundreds or thousands of times for those who do not care. do I deserve a better retirement?


    • 56 hour week. I call BS. If you call being at the station putzing around, sleeping, 2-3 days straight and then off for days on end.Do that for 40 years and maybe you deserve a hgher retirement, but not on the backs of those out in private sector that have 0 pension other than Social Security and our savings. Get a clue.


    • I’m a Safety retired Firefighter. My work week was 72 hours to 96 hours and sometimes
      much, much longer. I retired with 30 years of service. My annual retirement is a gross of
      $40,000+/-. A retirement of $58,000 to $85,000 would be really nice. But, I have to live
      on my $40,000 annual. Where does this high Safety retirement (Big Bucks) come from?
      I feel SO sorry that you “Desk Jockeys” are only being given an annual retirement of
      $200,000. For doing what? Come out and try Firefighting. I bet most of you couldn’t do it!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. This “report” is misleading and intended to get people upset – not informed. The data ( buried in the middle of the “study”) states this relates to only 10% of all PERS retirrees. If you include ALL retirees and compare them with ALL of the public, it would look much different.

    Or – compare the top 10% of PERS retirees to the top 10% of public…. anything would be a better comparison than these slanted figures.

    I will agree that a pension of $200,000 a year is wrong. Dont blame the people who took the job, change the system without trying to create class warfare


  5. Class warfare is exactly what the problem is. As a tax payer I have no control over the huge government salaries nor their retirements. I can’t approve or disapprove of the huge benefit increases. You liberal government employees will never vote for a conservative candidate who might bring your benefits in line with reality. Your unions have the whole thing locked up. You are all just a means of keeping the liberals in office. You need to be in the union and the unions contribute to the liberal candidates. The only way this will change is when the rest of the private sector companies move out of California and all of the cities and the state go bankrupt.


  6. The fact is that this article was written to elicit anti-public employee sentiment. You can not use average salary/retirement figures as those at the top are so much higher paid than the majority of public employees. The largest majority of public employees receive no more than $35,000 a year in retirement. The article uses figures for those receiving more than $100K per year from PERS, do the math this is only 3.3% of the salaries reviewed for this article. Further, the largest issue with PERS is the the state has been allowed to run it like Social Security. The State borrows from it and defers its payments which has left PERS underfunded for years; an issue created by Republican Governor Deukmejian who changed PERS from a private entity to a public entity. As for all of the public employees being liberal union members, please. The reason we are all union members is that the elected officials have provided unions the power to require all public employees to be members so that the union coffers remain full and the elected continue to receive their share. The real problem is that the State continues to enact anti-business friendly laws which leaves little to no opportunity for private sector jobs because we can’t seem to stop sending corrupt politicians to the legislature.

    Liked by 1 person