Kankakee County Administration Building Pensions

Kankakee County is one of the many local public employers participating in the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund.

KANKAKEE — Looking to retire in your 50s? Apparently, so are many government workers, including in Kankakee County.

The average age of the top 10 Kankakee County recipients in the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund, or IMRF, is 57, compared with 58 for the top 10 Kankakee Community College employees in the State Universities Retirement System.

The top 10 pension-collecting educators in the Kankakee School District retired at an average age of 59.

These numbers compare to Illinois’ average retirement age, which was 63 in 2015, according to SmartAsset.com.

Chicago-based Taxpayers United of America, a watchdog group, recently listed the top Kankakee County recipients in the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund and the State Universities Retirement System. It also ranked the top ones who retired from the Kankakee School District, which belongs to the Teachers Retirement System.

Among other recommendations, Taxpayers United recommends the retirement age in government pension systems be raised to 65. But the state can do nothing to change the age requirements for pensions of existing workers without changing the state constitution, which now bans the legislature from reducing pension benefits.

In any case, an expert at the University of Illinois at Chicago says retirement ages are not to blame for the problems in Illinois pension systems.

“For a few years, the government was not putting money into the pension systems,” said Amanda Kass, associate director of the UIC’s Government Finance Research Center. “Even one year snowballs as a deficit. That is less money for investments in later years.”

Pension costs now consume more than a quarter of the state budget. One of the main reasons for the rising pension costs are the mandated 3 percent annual compounded increases for beneficiaries, according to Taxpayers United.

In the state’s pension funds, the total number of retirees collecting $100,000-plus pensions is swiftly increasing. In 2018, 19,481 were getting more than $100,000. Just one year later, that number has risen above 22,000, according to Taxpayers United. Their data reports that 18 Kankakee school educators are pulling in pensions north of $100,000.

By contrast, the average Social Security recipient collects $17,500 a year.

Over the last decade, the inflation rate has often been well below 3 percent. In retrospect, UIC’s Kass said, the 3 percent rate seems “overly generous” over the last few years. An ideal pension system would keep up with inflation, she said.

But Kass said a general inflation rate may not be the right metric. Greater weight should be given to health-care inflation, which has a bigger effect on retirees, she said.

“Health costs are increasing rather substantially,” Kass said.

Taxpayers United offers three suggestions for the state to escape its “financial blackhole” — setting 65 as the retirement age, doing away with the 3 percent compounded increases and placing all employees in a 401(k)-style retirement savings account.

“Illinois is financially bankrupt,” said Val Zimnicki, Taxpayers United’s director of outreach. “We’re living off the vapors of citizens’ taxes.”

He added both Republicans and Democrats are at fault.

“Democrats more so because they’ve been in control of the Senate and the House. The governors have been split,” he said.

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