As reported by nj.com, for the second year in a row, public employees across New Jersey are retiring at a record rate, state figures show. Nearly 15,000 public workers are expected to retire from January through the end of July, a slight increase from the same period last year, when a record number of state employees left their jobs.
The steady rise in retirements comes amid economic uncertainty, with changes in pension and health benefits for public employees remaining at the top of the state’s political agenda. As a result, an increasing number of the more than 500,000 state and municipal employees are choosing to retire rather than risk having their benefits cut by legislators.
“People have a certain set of expectations, and at some point, it just makes sense to retire,” said Jim Ryan, a spokesman for the state Policemen’s Benevolent Association. Ryan said retirements, combined with layoffs, have left police departments across the state understaffed and in many cases without the streetwise experience needed to conduct adequate investigations.
The numbers provided by the state Treasurer’s office show that State Police officers are also retiring at a record pace, a trend that the superintendent recently told a state Senate committee was disturbing. By the end of July, records show, 144 state troopers are expected to retire, significantly higher than any 12-month period since at least 2000. In the previous decade, an average of 61 state troopers retired each year.
Overall, more than 20,000 public workers retired last year, a 60 percent increase over 2009 and the highest number in at least a decade, according to the state Department of the Treasury. The unexpected surge may eventually force the state to pay more money into its troubled pension fund. Every three years, the state examines such assumptions as retirement rates and employee levels, which serve as the basis for pension payments, and adjusts accordingly. The next study will look at the three-year period from June 2008 to June 2011, when retirements jumped.
While public employees ponder whether to remain at their jobs or retire and lock in their benefits, Governor Chris Christie and Democratic leaders are trying to work out the details of health and pension reform. Under all of the proposals that have been floated so far, public employees who have spent a prescribed amount of time on the job, generally 25 years, would not have their benefits cut upon retirement.