The pension nightmare that is at the heart of the horrific financial crisis in Detroit is just the tip of the iceberg of the coming retirement crisis that will shake America to the core. Right now, more than 10,000 Baby Boomers are hitting the age of 65 every single day, and this will continue to happen every single day until the year 2030.
As a society, we have made trillions of dollars of financial promises to these Baby Boomers, and there is no way that we are going to be able to keep those promises. The money simply is not there. Yes, I suppose that we could eventually see a “super devaluation” of the U.S. dollar and keep our promises to the Baby Boomers using currency that is not worth much more than Monopoly money, but as it stands right now we simply do not have the resources to do what we said that we were going to do. The number of senior citizens in the United States is projected to more than double by the middle of the century, and it would have been nearly impossible to support them all even if we weren’t in the midst of a long-term economic decline. Tens of millions of Americans that are eagerly looking forward to retirement are going to be in for a very rude awakening in the years ahead. There is going to be a lot of heartache and a lot of broken promises.
What is going on in Detroit right now is a perfect example of what will soon be happening all over the nation. Many city workers stuck with their jobs for decades because of the promise of a nice pension at the end of the rainbow. But now those promises are going up in smoke. There has even been talk that retirees will only end up getting about 10 cents for every dollar that they were promised.
Needless to say, many pensioners are extremely angry that the promises that were made to them are not going to be kept. The following is from a recent article in the New York Times…
Many retirees see the plan to cut their pensions as a betrayal, saying that they kept their end of a deal but that the city is now reneging. Retired city workers, police officers and 911 operators said in interviews that the promise of reliable retirement income had helped draw them to work for the City of Detroit in the first place, even if they sometimes had to accept smaller salaries or work nights or weekends.
“Does Detroit have a problem?” asked William Shine, 76, a retired police sergeant. “Absolutely. Did I create it? I don’t think so. They made me some promises, and I made them some promises. I kept my promises. They’re not going to keep theirs.”
But Detroit is far from an isolated case. As Detroit Mayor Dave Bing said the other day, many other cities are heading down the exact same path…
“We may be one of the first. We are the largest. But we absolutely will not be the last.”
Yes, Detroit’s financial problems are immense. But other major U.S. cities are facing unfunded pension liabilities that are even worse.
For example, here are the unfunded pension liabilities for four financially-troubled large U.S. cities…
- Detroit: $3.5 billion
- Baltimore: $680 million
- Los Angeles: $9.4 billion
- Chicago: $19 billion
When you break it down on a per citizen basis, Detroit is actually in better shape than the others…
- Detroit: $7,145
- Baltimore: $7,247
- Los Angeles: $8,437
- Chicago: $13,355
And many state governments are in similar shape. Right now, the state of Illinois has unfunded pension liabilities that total approximately $100 billion.
There are some financial “journalists” out there that are attempting to downplay this problem, but sticking our heads in the sand is not going to make any of this go away.