Featured Post

Was it constitutional for Proposition 124 to replace PSPRS' permanent benefit increases with a capped 2% COLA?

In this blog I and multiple commenters have broached the subject of the suspect constitutionality of PSPRS' replacement of the old perma...

Thursday, October 18, 2012

PSPRS members: Live long and prosper

One of the more compelling justifications for the generous benefits of public safety personnel pensions is that public safety personnel, particularly firefighters, have shorter life expectancy than those in other professions.  Point number three in this article by the Marin County Professional Firefighters (The Truth About Firefighter Retirement Benefits) is an example of the rationale for more generous pension benefits for firefighters. The article even states that including  longer-lived law enforcement personnel in the public safety pool skews the numbers to make firefighters look as if they live longer than they do.  They give no proof of this, and it seems a bit selfish and morbid for Marin County firefighters to criticize their law enforcement brothers and sisters for throwing off the average off by living normal lifespans.  Alas, these must be desperate times in Marin County.

PSPRS does not have a full breakdown of law enforcement and firefighters in either contributing members or retirees.  The closest they have is this data.  According to PSPRS's 2011 annual report, these are the top ten participating employers:

                                                     Employees         Percentage
    1. Phoenix Police         2,870                   15.40%
    2. Phoenix Fire             1,380                   7.40%
    3. DPS                           961                     5.16%
    4. Tucson Police           780                      4.18%
    5. Mesa Police              698                      3.75%
    6. Maricopa Sheriff      642                      3.44%
    7. Tucson Fire              500                       2.68%
    8. Pima Sheriff             494                       2.65%
    9. Glendale Police        397                       2.13%
    10. Scottsdale Police      387                       2.08%
                    Total Top Ten           9,109                   48.87%
                    All Others                9,529                    51.13%

As can be seen, two fire departments make up just a little over 20% of the top ten PSPRS contributing members.  I can only guess at the other 51%, but the top ten shows a ratio of 1 firefighter to every four law enforcement.  We can utilize this ratio for those like the Marin County firefighters who believe that law enforcement skew the longevity numbers, and the ratio shows that for every year longer that an average law enforcement officer lives would mean an average firefighter would have to live four years less to maintain the same average life expectancy for total public safety personnel.  If we use the current 78 year life expectancy of the average American male, the average law enforcement life expectancy would need to be 79 for the average firefighter life expectancy to be only 74 to maintain the total public safety average life expectancy at 78.

There is no evidence provided by the Marin County firefighters to support their contention that law enforcement skews the numbers.  Furthermore, the studies they cite about shorter life span do not address the issue of longevity.  They link to a Bureau of Labor Statistics study, but this study deals with on-the-job deaths, not longevity.  I have attempted to find data about life spans for professional firefighters and law enforcement through the Bureau of Labor Statistics and Census Bureau, but I do not find any.  It does not appear to be a statistical category that the government monitors.  As for the other link in the Marin County firefighters' article, it deals with the higher incidence of cancer among firefighters but does not quantify the risks.  This implies a shorter lifespan but gives no information about life expectancy.

For a verifiable source of data, we can go to the PSPRS annual report's actuarial section.  The actuarial assumptions are more grounded since they are used to determine PSPRS' liabilities.  The 2011 report lists the following life expectancies for the most likely age range of male retirees:

Age             Future Life Expectancy
50                          30.07 years
55                          25.86 years
60                          21.64 years

So for those who retire between 50 and 60, the expectation is that they will live to be between 80 and 81 years old.  This is 2-3 years longer than the average American male's life expectancy of 78 years.  If we apply the law enforcement-skewing hypothesis, this would mean that the average Arizona firefighter who retires in 2011 will only live to be between 66 and 70 years old.  If we use PSPRS' 1998 annual report, the average PSPRS male retiree could expect to live to between 77 and 79 years old; the average lifespan of an American male in 1998 was 74 years.  Under the law-enforcement skewing hypothesis, the average Arizona firefighter who retired in 1998 could only expect to live to be between 54 and 65 years.  When we extrapolate out some actual life expectancy numbers for firefighters, the notion that law enforcement are living longer and raising the average life span of public safety personnel that was put forward by the Marin County firefighters is shown to be self-serving nonsense.

The origin of the data used in the PSPRS reports is not referenced, but it is possibly propietary data gathered by insurance companies. Life expectancy may be different for different regions and cities, and FDNY personnel involved in rescue efforts after 9/11 would be an example of a notable exception of public safety workers who could be expected to have shorter life expectancy due to their exposure to hazardous conditions at Ground Zero.  However, the California Public Employees Retirement System (CalPERS) uses similar life expectancy numbers (CalPERS Debunks Myth of Shorter Life Expectancy for Safety Employees), so the numbers used by PSPRS do not appear to be out of line, at least for the southwest.

No one can deny that public safety is more dangerous than most other fields, but the average public safety worker reaching retirement can expect to live to the same age or longer than the average American.  Shorter life expectancy may have been the case for public safety personnel in the past, and this may explain the persistence of this notion.  However, without better data and analysis, the only conclusion that can be reached is that public safety personnel do not have a shorter life expectancy versus other professions.  Perpetuating this false claim not only misinforms the taxpayers but will negatively affect the financial sustainability of PSPRS and other public safety pensions.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Relevant comments are welcome, but please adhere to the following rules:

1. No profanity or vulgarity.
2. No spam or advertising.
3. No copyrighted material may be posted unless you are the copyright owner.
4. Stay on topic.
5. Disagreement is fine, but please avoid ad hominem attacks.

Comments reflect the views of the authors alone, and do not reflect the opinion of this website.