This article is from the May 2006 issue of PA Times, the official newspaper of the American Society for Public Administration. For information on the largest and most prominent professional association in public administration, visit the ASPA website at:
By Don Klingner
Whether you’re just starting your public service career as a new grad or moving into it as a mature professional, you’ll get lots of advice. These suggestions focus not on finding jobs or working into them, but on an area often overlooked–getting the benefits you need from work.
Today’s economy reflects a shift by private corporations away from pensions and health benefits. Many public agencies are now are under increasing pressure to do likewise.
While it’s easy–and somewhat accurate–to blame this trend on pressures to maintain corporate profits by shifting health care and retirement costs onto public programs like Medicare and Social Security, the biggest culprit is demographics.
As “baby boomers” born between 1946 and 1964 approach retirement, relatively fewer younger employees are pay into Social Security and other defined benefit pension systems. As both average life expectancy and health care costs continue to increase, something’s got to give.
Here are some tips that may help you avoid getting caught in this crunch:
Retirement planning is a “three-legged stool”–Social Security, employer sponsored pensions, and personal savings. Individual retirement accounts (IRAs)–called 401(k), 403(b), or supplemental retirement annuities (SRAs)–let you put away money that accumulates interest on a tax deferred basis. The sooner you start and the more you can save, the better off you will be.
Health insurance is complex; medical emergencies or accidents can be disastrous. The variety of health care plans is bewildering, but you need some coverage against catastrophic illness or injury.
If your employer contributes some of the premiums, compare alternative health insurance policies side by side to try and assess their strengths and weaknesses.
If your employer provides no health insurance coverage, or if you are working as an independent contractor, see what kind of coverage you can get based on your parents’ or spouse’s employment.
If you can’t find coverage through an employer, investigate options through professional associations like the American Society for Public Administration. Any group coverage you can get is likely to be cheaper than individual policies.
Check the Internet as well. When I googled “online insurance quotes,” I got 63 million hits in .37 seconds. Your employer may also offer accounts that allow you to pay health care costs in pre-tax rather than after-tax dollars.
Life Insurance: When you think about it, life insurance is counter-intuitive. You pay the premium betting you’re going to die; the insurance company accepts the policy betting you’re going to live. And most of the time, you do. So employers and professional associations (like ASPA) offer term life policies that are very cheap for those in their 20s and 30s.
Long-term Disability: As you get older, disability is a more pressing issue. Remember to “bank” your annual and sick leave if at all possible–the longer the waiting period before this insurance kicks in, the less it costs.
For more information about any of these tips, seek the advice of your employer’s personnel office or benefits counselor. If you don’t, nobody will do it for you. You’re in charge, and it’s your future!
Don Klingner is a professor in the Graduate School of Public Affairs at the University of Colorado and serves as vice president of the American Society for Public Administration.