We rely on public employees every day, and nurses are no exception. The second week of May has been designated National Nurses Week by the American Nursing Association to honor the people who work tirelessly to care for their communities and keep them healthy. They help deliver babies, care for the elderly, and often serve as the primary contact point for patients. In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, nurses have emerged as invaluable and are often underappreciated and overworked healthcare providers–and while a week of national recognition is a grand symbolic gesture, what nurses really need is support and financial security. 

Nurses in the public-sector face the same retirement challenges as many essential workers. Inflation, life expectancy, and the special interest attack on defined-benefit pensions all threaten their retirement security. Currently, approximately 42% of Registered Nurses in the public-sector are enrolled in defined-benefit pension systems. National Nurses United, the largest union of RNs in the country, says, “Defined-­­­benefit plans protect nurses’ pensions from the fluctuations of a volatile and speculative stock market. These plans safeguard retirement savings with far superior security— and benefits — that are available in typical 401(k)/403(b) plans.”

Nursing is taxing emotionally, physically, and mentally, and many regions across the U.S. are experiencing severe staffing shortages in hospitals and medical care centers. The University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences conducted a study in 2021 that predicted the nursing shortage will continue through 2030. Several factors contribute to this growing crisis, including burnout from Covid-19 demands, expensive education programs, and a steadily increasing number of elderly Americans as Baby Boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964) reach retirement age. This 65+ demographic has increased by 73% between 2011 and 2019, increasing from 41 million to 71 million, with the U.S. Census Bureau projecting it will reach 73 million by 2030. As the number of older Americans increases, the need for medical care also rises. 

So what can be done to help combat the shortage of nurses? For one, better compensation and benefits, including preserving and enhancing defined-benefit pension plans. It remains a proven fact that pensions improve the recruitment and retention of essential public employees. Pensions also provide income equity for women, a key factor to note for a predominantly female profession. And while we all acknowledge that nurses are indispensable regarding the health of the community, the pension dollars they spend in retirement also support the $1.3 trillion in output, 6.9 million jobs, and  $192 billion in tax revenue in the U.S. economy. 

This National Nurses Week, be sure to thank the medical professionals in your life who sacrifice so much for all of us and continue to advocate on their behalf for a secure retirement.