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By: Mark Glennon*

 

Compensation for firefighters and police is the third rail nobody wants to talk about. The key numbers are below, including what happened over the last thirty years.

 

Both the police and firefighter pensions have only about one-forth of the assets they should have to pay benefits promised — officially, that is. The real numbers are worse and we will be writing separately about that.

 

There’s good reason why most of us lay off the subject of compensation for police and fire. I admit to some bias, too. My relatives include lots of the active and retired firefighters who fill Southside Irish neighborhoods. But the numbers here are mostly self-explanatory, so not much interpretation is needed.

 

The numbers come from the most recent actuary reports for the firefighter and police pensions released earlier this year for 2014.  Those reports included historical data going back to 1985. I added the comparison of then to now, and to the inflation rate.

 

It’s that comparison of today’s numbers to 1985’s that jumps out. Remember as you look at these numbers that inflation has pushed prices up 120% since 1985. (I used the national CPI for the inflation number.) For Chicago firefighters:

fire

 

And here are the same numbers for Chicago police and their pension:

police

 

Clearly, while neither population ( which in fact dropped 9.6%) nor the number of workers contributed to it, other numbers spiked up much faster than inflation: average salary, total salary paid by the city, the number of pensioners in the system, their average annual pension and the total paid out by the pension. The jump in total payments out from both pensions is particularly staggering.

 

fire chart

To show directly just those percentage changes from 1985 to last year, I put them in the charts to the right

 

None of the increases is attributable to working longer. In fact, the average number of years of service for police dropped from 30 to 26 over the last 30 years. For firefighters, it held constant at about 30.5.police chart

 

Keep in mind that the average salaries do not include overtime. Chicago paid out $197 million in overtime in 2013. It has also paid out almost a half million dollars to one law firm to fight one suit about overtime — whether time spent after hours on emails and such should count as overtime.

 

I’ll leave it at that. I’m already starting to wonder what will happen when I ask for the stuffing at Thanksgiving dinner with those relatives.

 

*Mark Glennon is founder of WirePoints. Opinions expressed are his own.

 

 

 

 

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