By Jon Ortiz The Sacramento Bee
Published: Thursday, Nov. 18, 2010 – 12:00 am | Page 3A
Last Modified: Thursday, Nov. 18, 2010 – 6:18 am

More state workers have drawn their first retirement checks this year than did in all of 2009.

There are plenty of reasons, but first let’s set the scene with a few numbers.

Data from the California Public Employees’ Retirement System show that 10,229 state workers drew their first pension check between January and October this year. That’s 829 more new retirees than all of last year.

It’s all the more impressive when you consider 2009 saw the number of first-time state pensioners jump nearly 18 percent over 2008.

So why is this happening? Some of it is demographics.

On average, California state employees retire at around 60 with about 23 years of service. The state has estimated that about 13,000 managers and supervisors could retire by 2016. About three times that many rank-and-file workers will also retire in that period if the average holds true.

Simple math probably pushed many employees to leave, too. Roughly 50,000 of the state’s 235,000 employees are taking three furlough days per month, equal to a 14 percent pay cut. The rest are managers whose compensation has been cut by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, or unionized workers under new concessionary contracts, including one unpaid day off per month and higher out-of-pocket pension costs.

Many employees old enough to retire have run the numbers:

(Starting pay) – (5 percent pay cut from a monthly furlough day) – (3 percent increase to my pension contribution) + (no chance of a raise in the next year or so) + (the attendant headaches of working for the state) = I’M OUTTA HERE!

If the retirement spike is a misery measure, state workers are more unhappy than their local-government counterparts. Through October of this year, 19,203 city, non-state employees in the CalPERS system took their first pension checks, compared with 18,564 for all of last year.

If no one else took their pensions in November or December, 2010 would end with local-government retirements up by roughly 3 percent over 2009. The state’s increase: 9 percent.

Look for another big retirement spike soon. Cal-PERS delays pension cost-of-living adjustments until the May after a retiree’s first full calendar year off work. Up to a quarter of state employees time their retirements for the end of the year.

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