Many colleges and universities are on spring break this week. Students from across the country will be flocking to Florida’s beaches to take a break from school and soak up the sun. While these students may be able to enjoy a week of relaxation, many Floridians don’t feel so relaxed about their retirement. And a bill that passed the Florida House this year would weaken retirement security for nurses, librarians, and other public employees.
Florida has one of the lowest rates of retirement security in the nation. According to the National Institute on Retirement Security, fewer than a third of private-sector workers in Florida participate in an employer-sponsored retirement plan, such as a 401(k). Even among those who do have a 401(k) plan, the average account balance is less than $24,000, barely enough to cover a year’s worth of retirement. Coupling a fairly high cost of living and less generous Medicare benefits, many Florida retirees will be facing difficult times in their golden years.
For Florida’s public employees, things are a little better. Many of them participate in the Florida Retirement System, a statewide defined benefit pension plan. This plan covers state and local employees and had over 600,000 active members as of June 30, 2015. FRS members earn a very modest average annual benefit of $20,472. However, the Florida House recently passed legislation that would undermine the retirement security of public employees there.
Currently, Florida’s public employees can choose between participating in the defined benefit pension plan or a defined contribution 401(k)-style plan. The default option is the pension plan, meaning if an employee does not make a choice, they are automatically enrolled in the pension. This is a good thing. As we have said repeatedly, defined benefit pensions provide a much more secure and reliable retirement than 401(k)-style plans. However, under HB 7107, the default option would switch from the pension plan to the 401(k)-style plan. This bill passed the state house in February. Fortunately, though, HB 7107 was defeated in the Florida Senate last week. This is a win for Florida’s public employees.
Even after the spring breakers leave, Florida will remain in the national spotlight as a major battleground state in the presidential election this year. Yesterday’s Florida primary was a major contest for candidates from both parties and the eventual nominees will continue to focus on winning votes there. It is imperative that Florida voters use their influence to demand answers from the presidential candidates on how they will solve the retirement security crisis. After all, retirement in Florida is no day at the beach.