Yesterday was Opening Day for Major League Baseball. At this point in the season, teams are full of expectations. The Royals will look to defend their World Series title; the Cubs will look to end a 107 year old drought; and the Giants will hope to continue their even year championship streak. Similarly, public workers enter retirement full of expectations for their future; however, just like a baseball team can be ravaged by injuries, a retiree’s plans for the future can be dashed by inadequate retirement savings. Fortunately, Major League Baseball players and public employees have one thing in common: the security of a defined benefit pension.
The pension plan for MLB players is the oldest in American professional sports. It was founded in 1947 and has been consistently well-funded. Currently the plan is funded at 80 percent. MLB players must play 43 days in the majors to earn a minimum $34,000 annual pension plan. The average annual pension benefit for a retired baseball player is $48,000. In addition to their pension benefits, just one day in the majors gets them lifetime health care coverage.
Just like retired baseball players, many nurses, librarians, firefighters, and other public employees can count on the security and reliability of a defined benefit pension in retirement. While the average annual pension benefit for a retired public employee is much lower than $48,000, the modest benefit that these working people earn is enough for them to manage a comfortable retirement.
Unfortunately, while baseball players and other professional athletes are still able to earn a defined benefit pension, other private sector workers are not. The availability of defined benefit pensions in the private sector has declined precipitously over the last few decades, which has led to the looming retirement crisis facing American workers. Rather than trying to gut pensions for public employees, politicians should be looking for ways to provide retirement security for all working people in America. And the message we should be sending to these politicians is clear: pensions are a grand slam for retirement security.