Hit & Run

Steven Greenhut on the Demographic Changes Threatening Pensions



In a 2011 profile about California's ongoing fiscal mess, Vanity Fair interviewed San Jose's then-Mayor Chuck Reed, a progressive Democrat who has for years been warning about coming cuts in public services if the state's pension systems don't get benefit levels under control. Reed did the math and the picture wasn't pretty. "By 2014, Reed had calculated, a city of a million people, the 10th-largest city in the United States, would be serviced by 1,600 public workers," according to the piece. "The problem was going to grow worse until, as he put it, 'you get to one.' A single employee to service the entire city, presumably with a focus on paying pensions." But while San Jose and other cities will never literally reach a single employee who sits in the room mailing out pension checks, the trajectory is headed in that troubling direction. Now, writes Steven Greenhut, even the California Public Employees' Retirement System, the nation's largest pension fund and one of the state's most adamant opponents of pension reform, released a report in November that bolster's Reed's case.