Keeping retirement weird. Who is leaving?


On this beautiful Earth Day I am going to be a judge evaluating high school students who are aspiring political cartoonists.

I will receive a small stipend, but I’m not doing it for the money. The stipend is not much. Like so many other retired teachers, we volunteer in schools, we coach, we are political activists and so much else.

We are a free asset to our communities.

I read the other day that every ten years or so the pension actuarial tables and mortality rates have to be recalculated. Some of us are living longer.

For others, life expectancy is actually decreasing. We can blame the widening gap between rich and poor for those whose lives are at greater risk.

For teachers in the retirement pension system, living longer is a problem for the state. The pension actuaries have to account for our increasing life expectancy. It is one factor in the state’s $130 billion pension liability. Some of our state’s politicians complain that retired teachers are living too long.

When I write, as I did yesterday, about health care, pensions and taxes, I inevitably receive two kinds of responses.

“If you tax the rich, they will leave the state.”

No they won’t.

Bruce Rauner has nine homes and they’re not all in Illinois. So do his billionaire buddies. They don’t have to leave. The can pretend they are Donald Trump playing golf and stuffing his face at Mar-a-Lago on the weekends.

For the poor and working class it is another matter. As Chicago’s industrial base has disappeared, so have the people who did the work and paid the taxes.

Hundreds of thousands of African American workers have left Chicago and Illinois over the past couple of decades. It is a reversal of the Great Migration from the South that occurred in the early part of the 20th Century.

A flat income tax that allows the richest billionaire hedge fund manager and the poorest worker to pay the same income tax rate, while union jobs have been replaced by minimum pay jobs, means working people have moved someplace else. A state that doesn’t raise enough revenue to pay its bills has put the tax burden on the towns and homes of those who can afford it the least.

The least wealthy of us can’t afford to stay.

It is those people who have left. Only the rich can afford the life style that the City has to offer them.

Yet those who repeat the myth of the disappearing 1% are unconcerned by all of this.

“Illinois should tax retirement income.”

Yes. Illinois does not tax retirement income.

I don’t have a problem with a fair, progressive tax on retirement income.


I do find it puzzling that those who propose this think it is preferable to starting with a fair tax on the rich.  How does increasing taxing old folks address the revenue problem?

I also find it puzzling that the folks who send me these comments, often the same folks sending both, hold what appears to be two contradictory ideas.

Taxes cause people to leave the state. Tax the income of retirees who can leave the state fairly easily? Taking their income and taxable spending with them?

What is keeping a retired teacher from moving to Southern California?

California does tax retirement income. Illinois doesn’t. It ain’t the weather that keeps us here.

4 Replies to “Keeping retirement weird. Who is leaving?”

  1. Fred,
    Couple of things here. Yes, the actuaries do have to adjust their tables every so often just like they would at an insurance company, but it’s not the living longer that is the real problem Fred, it’s the actuarial assumption on the return on assets that is the problem.
    You see the actuaries use an assumed return number, say 8%, that at the time it’s implemented they believe will be accurate over the long term. Well, it’s over 10 years into the era of “0%” interest following a 30% negative return on stocks in one year and very few plans have adjusted down from the 7 ot 8% assumption they are using. Why you might ask, well it should be obvious. Trust me Fred, the actuaries do their work and show the results to the pols. They react by, surprise, doing nothing. What would that $130 billion number be if they used a realistic assumption of return on assets for the next 20-30 years. Can we be “more broke”?
    As far as the so called rich leaving Illinois Fred, lets use an example more realistic than Brucey and his 9 homes. Let’s say I’m just an average rich guy with a couple of homes, maybe even three. Illinois, Florida and somewhere else. If I don’t need to spend the majority of my time in Illinois I make another state my primary residence and don’t spend a lot of time in Illinois, bingo!! my taxes get pro rated among states base on where I spend time. You don’t avoid them but you don’t need to move either.

    As far as taxing retirement income, well let’s just say that when the majority of your retiement income is interest, dividends and capital gains that are already taxed paying whatever rate on Social Security will not matter. Also, remember, the so called rich don’t have regular pensions, they are usually special deals that will be taxed when paid anyway since the plan are what the tax wonks call “non-qualifying”.

    You can huff and puff until you are blue in the face, but ask yourself this: if the captrain of the Titanic had arranged the chairs differently in the deck would the ship remained afloat? The end result of what is going on in Illinois can only be some kind of grand deal on pensions or a restructuring of the finances of the state and city of chicago. We may be gone when it happens but it will happen.

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