By LaKeshia Myers
I love teaching. It is not only what I do, it is who I am at my core. While I have taken a hiatus from the traditional school setting, I view the State Capitol as my current classroom. I never hesitate to engage in spirited debate with colleagues, whether across the aisle or those that share my political affiliation because I believe we all approach topics differently, each using a diverse lens to examine an intricate picture. Currently, no picture is as complex as that of the lack of workers in both the state civil service and classroom teachers. Presently, there are 378 job announcements listed on Wisc.jobs—the state’s civil service website, and after perusing any school district’s website, it is easy to deduce that if you are a teacher and want a job, you have several choices. As a millennial, an educator, and a person who believes in looking at the “big picture” I understand the need and necessity in supporting AB670, which would modify our state’s retirement system, and I would like to explain why.
1. The bill only applies to individuals under 40.
As of December 2018, the state of Wisconsin employed 234,764 people; only 78,636 were under the age of 40, this equals only thirty-three percent of the total state workforce (Wisconsin Employee Trust Fund, 2018). Only 21,199 of these individuals are classroom teachers, this is 44% of the total teaching populace (DPI, 2019). From an educational viewpoint, teachers are starting their careers later in life. Enrollment in our state’s teacher education programs is rapidly declining at the undergraduate level, but thriving at the graduate level. This not only means that entrance into the Wisconsin Retirement System begins later for educators; starting in the classroom later in life often leads to individuals staying in the profession and the retirement system longer. This yields greater dividends for individuals once they retire. By starting later and retiring later, millennials–and those generations that enter the workforce after us–will reap greater rewards by being in a stable job for a longer period of time, and retire closer to the age of eligibility for other social retirement programs (Medicare, social security, etc.), we would also be paying into these programs for a longer period of time.
Furthermore, when compared to other states, Wisconsin offers one of the lowest educator retirement ages in the nation. The only state lower than Wisconsin was Colorado, which allowed an educator to retire at age fifty, provided they had thirty years of service (I can assure you, there are very few people who begin their teaching career at age 20). Authors of the legislation have stated that they believe raising the retirement age to 59.5 is also cost-effective for annuitants because it is significant in tax-advantaged savings plans because under the tax code, that generally is the earliest that withdrawals can be made from such plans without incurring the ten percent “early withdrawal” penalty on investments, and their associated earnings in “traditional” account balances—that is, money that was put in on a pretax basis.
2. This change would allow the State Civil Service to Attract More People of Color
Historically, civil service employment has served as an equalizer for people of color. For example, under the federal civil service, African Americans and Hispanics have enjoyed longevity in government service with family sustaining wages and benefits. By raising the retirement age to 59.5, the state has the unique opportunity to invest in its marketing and advertising to previously untapped markets—namely minority serving institutions of higher learning. Just as it did during the Great Migration in the early and mid-twentieth centuries, northern cities actively recruited people of color to fill its employment needs. Historically Black Colleges and Hispanic serving institutions produce the majority of African American and Hispanic professionals including teachers, attorneys, agricultural professionals, doctors, and engineers. By focusing on underserved communities and creating a pipeline for talent, our state would be able to fill pertinent positions.
3. This Change Would Allow Retirees to be Rehired without Penalty
AB670 also rights a previous wrong; it would allow retired persons the ability to be rehired by a school system or state agency with the option of continuing to receive their earned pension. As our population continues to age and the responsibilities of life continue to inflate, this would be a win/win situation for many current annuitants. I have known many who are faced with the care of aging parents, chronically ill children, and those reeling from the death of a spouse who would welcome a financial remedy for them and their family. This would also help schools retain institutional knowledge and help ease the pain of swelling class sizes.
In all, I believe we have to begin looking at things from a different lens. It is because of decisions made by generations prior to us that millennials are already “starting life” later. We hold off on home ownership, marriage, and having children until we are older. The same also occurs when finding the career that best suits our needs. I don’t look at AB670 as an assault on the state’s civil service, I look at it as a golden opportunity for diversity, inclusion, recruitment, retention, and sustainability. I can only hope others think outside of their lens. After all, the vast majority of current state employees will not be affected. It’s mind over matter—if millennials don’t mind, what’s really the matter?