The mass exodus of Oregon public employees—due to pending changes in the Public Employee Retirement System (PERS)—has become a news diet staple. The August 4 Oregonian headline was typical: “PERS changes cause bailout.” The story featured several long-time public employees who are reluctantly retiring in their mid-50s so they can collect their pensions before legislatively mandated changes take effect that would reduce their benefits.
For employees who had planned to work into their 60s, early retirement is doubtless a difficult decision; it’s hard to walk away from a career when you may be at your peak years of productivity. However, make no mistake: public employees aren’t being “forced” into retirement. They’re voluntarily retiring to collect some of the most generous pension benefits in the country, benefits legislators never imagined when PERS was established. Many early retirees will receive 70 percent or better of their final working salary, and some more than 100 percent.
Obviously it’s difficult to pass up such a deal, but employees do have a choice. If their work is really meaningful, they should stay on the job and accept more modest retirement benefits later, as most Americans do.
Can money buy happiness? Since January 1 more than 10,300 public employees have decided it does, making this the largest group of single-year retirees in PERS history. They’ll soon find out if they made the right choice.
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