Retirement insights from a Colorado PERA perspective

Issues & Perspectives

Are public sector workers satisfied?

PERA member Melissa Vigil teaches chemistry and earth systems science at Fossil Ridge High School in Fort Collins.

Melissa Vigil moved to Fort Collins to earn a Ph.D. in
organic chemistry. Three years later, those plans changed. “I
realized that while I love chemistry and science in general, I wasn’t a happy
lab rat,” she said. “I switched to teaching to share my passion for science
with students.”

Eleven years later, Melissa is still teaching at Fossil Ridge High
School, part of Poudre School District.

Like many Coloradans, Melissa spends a lot of time outside—white
water rafting, skydiving, hiking, snowshoeing, shooting, stand up paddle
boarding, swimming, and more. And, like many who work in public service
careers, she measures success by the impact she has on others. “I feel most
proud when I’ve done something tangible when I leave for the day,” she said. “Whether that’s having a successful parent-teacher
conference to teach a kid a life lesson bigger than a science concept, finally
getting caught up on grading, or creating a new way to engage students.”

Melissa’s career outlook and values are shared by hundreds of thousands of state and local employees across the country. A recent study published by the National Institute on Retirement Security (NIRS) collected and analyzed data surrounding the sentiments public sector workers have about their jobs and the compensation they receive for it.

What Do
Public Sector Workers Think About Their Jobs?

and local employees like helping others, and they like their jobs…

Nearly 90 percent of state and local employees reported being satisfied
with having the ability to serve the public. Although 71 percent say that their
jobs are stressful, 85 percent are satisfied with their jobs.

In Colorado, 90 percent of state employees report feeling that the work they do is important, according to a 2017 study.

…Yes, even

Amid reports of Millennials hopping from job to job, the NIRS study
showed that 84 percent of Millennials working in state and local government are
satisfied with their current job. Eighty-five percent said they plan to stay at
their current employer until they are eligible for retirement or can no longer

like their jobs despite a mixed view on pay

Twenty-two percent reported their salaries being very competitive,
and 80 percent say they could earn a higher salary in the private sector.

defined benefit plan is a major factor in retention

Ninety-four percent of state and local employees have favorable
views of defined benefit pensions. Fifty-eight percent said that moving them
from a pension and into an individual retirement plan would make them more
likely to leave their job. And those Millennials: 74 percent said a pension
benefit is a major reason they chose a public sector job.

The mission of Colorado PERA is to promote long-term financial security for our membership. The passage of Senate Bill 18-200 puts PERA on the path to become fully funded within 30 years.

Security in Colorado

Melissa Vigil loves teaching, but she doesn’t think she’ll teach
forever. She said that teaching is a demanding profession. “I want to be able to retire at an age
where I’m still fighting to give students my best,” she said. “And selfishly,
I’d like to retire at an age where I can enjoy my retirement. My husband and I
have a long list of places we would love to travel to!”

As a result, she said “it means everything to be able to rely on a
secure retirement.” But planning for retirement isn’t always easy. “I, like
many people, find it a bit overwhelming,” she said. “What is most helpful for
me is a two pronged approach—some electronic and some in-person information.”

Preparing for retirement isn’t something you do once. Learning about retirement takes place throughout a person’s career. To that end, thousands of people take advantage of PERA’s face-to-face educational opportunities and webinars every year.

Importance of Understanding the Public Sector Mindset

The trends highlighted in the national study mirror those found in
Colorado. “It’s clear from the research that public service is important to
state and local workers like teachers, nurses, police officers, and
firefighters,” said Dan Doonan, NIRS executive director. Driven by a sense of
purpose, state and local workers often accept lower salaries than they could
earn in the private sector. “Understanding at a deep level these employee
preferences and concerns will best position state and local policymakers to
recruit and retain qualified, experienced employees that taxpayers depend


  1. Fran Aguirre says:

    When PERA loses $1 billion in fossil fuel investments, it is time to divest and invest in the renewable energy field. It looks like the only way to do this is through legislative action. Who will support 350 in doing this? PERA needs to stop losing money and care about our planet”s air, water and land!

    • Divest OG says:

      I totally agree with you! Climate change is not a political position; it is a fact which cannot be ignored if we want life on this planet. Divest from oil and gas PERA. I’m disheartened by its billion dollar loss also. A renewable energy investment is a good suggestion.

    • J C Ancell says:

      I agree.

  2. Sandy Sharp says:

    None of the workers in my department are satisfied. We are under paid. We struggle performing our job due to bureaucracy. Leadership is poorly trained and there is little room for advancement. When we get a small raise increases in PERA contribution take most if it. Of course PERA did this survey and it is so slanted.

  3. Ron Brown says:

    I’d like to see an updated survey since 20+ year DOC veterans got screwed out of the raise new hires got.

  4. Kris Nolen says:

    I find it interesting that social security recipients received a 2.7 increase and the retirees received no increase the past two years. I struggle with going into retirement in 2006 with a certain percentage increase and I have had 4 years of no increase and the percentage cut to what appears to be less than social security. My husband and I have made sacrifices to pay into social security and PERA and there is “0” right to survivor benefit? Shame on the PERA for not protecting teachers if their spouse were to pass. In my case, when my Husband and I both received our degrees, he started at $1600.00 a month and I was paid $400.00 a month. This is practically at poverty level. No wonder there are so few men in education, back in those days.
    I do recommend that there be no state tax for PERA retirees. There are several states that honor their teachers in that way. Do your job and fight for our rights or let us use this platform to organize a committee of retirees.

  5. Mitch says:

    The question PERA should be asking is how satisfied are the retirees. No COLA for two years and none on the horizon. And if we do get an increase in the future it will be greatly reduced from what it should be.I’m dreading the inevitable next recession and the next lifetime sacrifice we will have to “share” when we go from green light to red light. Now that PERA is in league with the Legislators the consequences could be dire.
    COLA exists because it’s the right thing to do. It should have been protected by law from the beginning.

    • Alberto Paredes says:

      When I retired in 2004 the annual contracted increase was 3% automatically, then several national retirement programs failed and left all their retirees with zero income. Ours went down from 3% to 1.5% if there are not losses in investment totals. Moreover, the increases were suspended. When I calculate that these moves caused me to lose the accumulative increases for 15 years, becomes to be several thousands dollars per year. My conclusion was, everybody is suffering in this country, the economy is doing well for a few, and the rest of us are “swimming in the same soup” of struggling to survive. The economy is not doing well, it is alternate reality for this administration.

    • PERA On The Issues says:

      Hi Mitch. Just a reminder that an annual increase of 1.25% goes into effect for all eligible retirees on July 1, 2020.

  6. Alberto Paredes says:

    I do agree with all of the above comments for they have value from the point of view of each of us. I am sorry about the loss of $1B invested in fossil fuel industries, and it would make sense to divert investment towards renewable energy sources, because the future is there, like or not. Earth will not support life as it could unless climate change is under control. The government does not matter, this administration is a deniers nest, and we will be gone by the time people will be swimming on the streets. But I have to comprehend that it is better to get a lesser increase in retirement payments than none. I hope the administrators of COPERA use common sense in making decisions.

  7. Steve K says:

    I disagree with the comments that PERA investment professionals should have their hands tied as to the companies they invest in. Do you really think the legislature can make these decisions better?
    PERA is the Fiduciary for our 50 Billion, they are obligated to get the best return, not decide which investments are best for the climate, or make us feel good.

  8. William J Davis says:

    I too have questions regarding PERA’s investment strategies . Evidently their investments are not full filling the needs of both current employees as well as retires . I retired well over 10 years with the promise of COLA annual increase of 3% . Well we can forget about that !! Apparently due to questionable investments by PERA we will not be fully funded until as I understand until 2050 ! Really !! Do I anticipate being around in 2050 ? Doubtful !! I will receive 1.25% increase in July but that is the extent of it . As I see it now there are no other increases on the horizon or immediate future . Due to WEP I took a hit on my Social Security due to pension requirements . I received a minor raise on my Social Security but a majority of that went to the increase of Medicare . My PERA health insurance will without a doubt increase to some extent ! When all is said and done I might be able to buy a six pack of beer . HAPPY NEW YEAR !!

  9. John says:

    I don’t know how any educated state employee or retiree can be happy with the condition of the pension. According to reports to the JBC employees are paying the entire normal cost of their retirement benefit while employers are trying to catch up the unfunded liability with AED and SAED. One of those was to come from funds that would have been used for raises yet it is not shown on the employee contribution side of the ledger. I am lucky enough that I will retire in the next decade and will earn 75% of my salary after 30 years of service. The employees starting work today will earn less than 50% of their salary working the same number of years.

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