Police and fire continue to promote ‘early death’ fiction
Police officers and firefighters aren’t about to stop touting their talking point about dying early, given how effective it is in convincing officials to grant them six-figure pension plans. If they die a couple years after retiring because of job stresses and fire-related cancers, then who can begrudge them a short time of comfort after a career “putting their lives on the line”?
It’s utter buncombe, of course. But this Market Watch writer realized recently that this fiction still is widely believed. As Alicia Munnell wrote, “At a recent meeting, a colleague asserted – with great assurance – that we need very different pension plans for different types of workers, because firefighters die two years after they retire while teachers live for 20 years. I can only assume that she meant that fairness would preclude asking the firefighters to retire later.”
She did the actuarial research and came to this conclusion: “The results show very little difference at age 60 in the life expectancy of police and fire as compared with other public employees. The average life expectancy at age 60 for police and firefighters was 24 years for men and 26 years for women. For non-police and fire, the comparable figures were 25 years for men and 27 years for women – just one year longer!”
Actually, I’m shocked that it shows public-safety officials living longer at all. I did the research and have reported on it repeatedly (to no avail.) The California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS), the nation’s largest pension fund, produced data and a presentation debunking this myth. Its data shows that police officers are the longest-living retirees, followed closely by firefighters. They live longer than pretty much everyone else. That means their oversized pensions are not just for a year or two. Given that in California these folks retire at age 50, it means that taxpayers are on the hook for them for 35 years or more.
Advocates for this early-death idea don’t have data — just statements and conjecture, mostly from union officials. But the fantasy keeps coming around and around. Here, I helped PolitiFact debunk the claim from a Rhode Island union mouthpiece.
When I point out the facts, the police and fire advocates often change the subject. They say that these public-safety jobs are so dangerous that even if many retirees live a long life, many are killed in the line of duty. This, too, is at odds with the facts. The Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t list police or firefighter jobs high on their rankings of most-dangerous jobs. If we want to reward high-risk professions with huge pensions, then we should give them to loggers, fishers, taxi drivers and roofers. Then again, those folks aren’t represented by politically powerful public-sector unions.
Well, it’s good that Market Watch debunked this nonsense. But don’t expect it to take hold — and don’t expect self-interested union members to stop touting a heartstring-pulling idea, no matter how removed from the truth it happens to be.