Retired Pa. educators and public servants struggle to make ends meet

Shown is the Pennsylvania Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa., Thursday, Dec. 16, 2021. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

By Scott Brown

November 17, 2023

In an op-ed for the Keystone, Scott Brown, retired mathematics teacher with the Colonial School District in Montgomery County and a member of PSEA-Retired, outlines his support for a cost of living adjustment in the monthly pension of teachers and public servants who retired prior to 2001.

Imagine what it would be like to go to the grocery store today, fill up your cart with food and necessities, and pay for it all on the same income you earned more than 20 years ago.

For 69,000 retired Pennsylvania public servants like me in their 80s and 90s, that is everyday life in 2023.

It has been more than two decades since the Pennsylvania General Assembly approved a cost-of-living adjustment on the pensions we earned during our decades-long careers in public education and state government.

I spent 39 years teaching high school mathematics until my retirement in 2000. I’m proud of my career, and I’m proud of the tens of thousands of retired educators and support professionals who served alongside me.

We chose to work in public education because we wanted to give back to our communities and to our country.

When I was a young man in the ‘60s thinking about my future, I listened to the words of John F. Kennedy during his inaugural address: “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.”

His historic words challenged every American to contribute in some way to the public good. I chose to give back to my community, as did tens of thousands of others here in Pennsylvania, by taking on a career in public education.

We took on this important work because we believed in the words of President Kennedy. We stepped up, and we did so with the understanding that while we may not earn as much as we could working in the private sector, we would have secure retirements that would keep up with the costs of living.

We spent our careers serving our communities, but too many of us cannot keep up with rising costs today.

We retired prior to 2001 when Act 9 went into effect, increasing public pensions in Pennsylvania. That means we already receive smaller pensions than those who retired after us.

Pre-Act 9 retirees, on average, earn pensions of less than $20,000 a year. As a result of rising inflation over the past two decades, the real buying power of those pensions has declined by 40%.

Thankfully, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives is moving forward with legislation to provide us with a modest cost-of-living adjustment. I commend Reps. Dan Deasy, D-Allegheny, and Steve Malagari, D-Montgomery, in the House and Sens. John Kane, D-Delaware, and Katie Muth, D-Montgomery, in the Senate for advocating for us.

They are acting in the best traditions of the General Assembly, which from 1968 to 2002 passed cost-of-living legislation every four or five years for retired public servants.

When I think about this issue, I think about colleagues like the retired cafeteria worker at my school, a good friend who served me lunch every day. Today, she struggles to make ends meet on her modest pension. I feel an obligation to speak up for her and many others like her.

Nobody should be in a position where they have to decide between buying groceries or medicine in any given week. That is not the America that JFK envisioned in his historic address. And it is not the Pennsylvania that I know.

We can do better, and we will, with the leadership of legislators like Rep. Deasy, Rep. Malagari, Sen. Kane, and Sen. Muth.

We are talking about a generation of public servants who spent their careers making our commonwealth a better place to live, work, and learn. I call on the Legislature to stand by us the way we stood by you, your parents, and your grandparents. Let us close out the last chapters of our lives feeling appreciated and valued for our many years of service.



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