Tim O’Connell, Executive Director, North Carolina Retired Governmental Employees Association – March 9, 2023
More than 320,000 local and state government retirees are drowning in inflation. With a likely probability of another multi-billion-dollar surplus for the state, it’s time to do the right thing and provide inflation-fighting cost-of-living adjustments for these dedicated women and men.
The fact that everything costs more today is common knowledge. Over the past decade, individual purchasing power has declined by 29 percent. The basket of basic goods bought 10 years ago for $100 now costs $129. During this same period, cost-of-living adjustments totaled just 2 percent for state retirees and less than 1 percent for local government retirees.
This widening gap of lack of cost-of-living adjustments related to inflation hurts not only the retirees but the entire North Carolina economy. This is particularly true in North Carolina’s rural counties, where a higher percentage of retired public servants live compared to urban counties.
And yet retirees are good for the state’s economy. The National Institute of Retirement Security reports that in North Carolina, public pensioners support more than 49,477 jobs across all 100 counties and across a breadth of industries, from hospitality to healthcare to real estate. The value of this to the North Carolina economy is $8.1 billion a year and excludes the $1.2 billion this group pays in taxes to the state and federal government. The continued stagnation of cost-of-living adjustments will reduce this impact if not addressed.
While retirees remain grateful for the one-time bonuses the North Carolina General Assembly and Retirement System Trustees have provided over the past decade, such appreciated efforts will not abate the issue of short and long-term inflation. With the average retirement payment of approximately $1,650 monthly for retired public servants and the current 29 percent reduction in buying power adjusted for inflation, North Carolina has not seen this significant disparity in nearly 50 years.
Public sector retirees are forced to make hard decisions at the grocery store and at the pharmacy, and some struggle to maintain their own homes. Governmental retirees are our neighbors, friends, and parents. They educated our children, maintained our roads, cared for our loved ones, provided our families with clean drinking water, and were the first responders who put in long and often dangerous hours to keep our communities safe.
As we look at ways to bolster the resiliency of the North Carolina economy, serious consideration must be given to how it can be done in a way that provides dignity and quality of life to governmental retirees. As our legislators and elected officials make decisions in what is projected as another year of surplus revenues, they cannot forget our retired public servants.