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.


Comments (6) Add yours ↓

    “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.)”

    Regarding the “to no avail”. It is because your word has no value due to countless articles that you have put out that are misleading at best. The best thing that you could do for yourself is to REPORT the truth instead of your opinions. The best thing any news organization could do is to fire you, it could only improve their standing.

    August 4, 2014 Reply
  2. Isaac Cilisi

    Another Greenhut story leaving out important facts. Go look at the CalPERS data on how many law enforcement officers actual work until their full benefit of 3@50. The last numbers I read a couple years ago showed the average retirement age was at 26 1/2 years of service. Less than 4% actually collected the full benefit. Most of them being desk jockey management material. Why? The average cop (boots on the ground) is so fraught with physical ailments it becomes too difficult to effectively do the job. Wear a 27 lb. belt for 25 years and see how your back feels. It’s much more physical than being a propaganda writer.

    A study done at Columbia University, released in 2009, showed nationally that peace officers, at the working ranks, lived on average 10.6 years after retirement at 55 years old and 30 years of service. That goes along with with my experience as well.

    It’s true public safety personnel are living longer, but it’s also true you omit or twist the facts to propagate your “message”. You’re as much a journalist as Sean Hannity.

    August 4, 2014 Reply
  3. S and P 500

    Most of the work done by firemen is paramedic related. If they do live shorter lives it’s because of the danger of hardening of the arteries from too many Starbucks breaks and too many oatmeal bars. Private workers in dangerous jobs don’t have the backing of powerful unions, but they do have the Koch Brothers on their side. The Kochs got Scott Walker elected Governor. Maybe I’ll buy some Brawny paper towels and add some more shares of SBUX to my portfolio if the fire dept. is helping to pay my dividends.

    August 5, 2014 Reply
  4. Tough Love

    And you find it “surprising” that Police/Fire (or ANY PUBLIC Sector) union officials would knowingly lie ?

    Really ?

    EVERY TIME they make such statements, they should BY NAME repeated be called out as lairs …. with a demand that they be removed from management positions.

    August 9, 2014 Reply
  5. Richard Ives

    I am a retired NYC Police Officer. The physical requirements of both police and fire in a city like New York are great, and performing these duties to an older age would not be possible. Additionally the police in NYC are the lowest paid in the area. I had opportunities to transfer to higher paid departments in Nassau and Suffolk Counties. Having been born and raised in Brooklyn, I loved being a cop in the city regardless of pay.

    August 20, 2014 Reply

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