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Congressional Pensions

Updated on October 5, 2013

Background

Congressmen make an average of $174,000/year while serving their terms. (I only wish they were docked some of this pay when they cause government shutdowns.) All Congressmen receive a pension for life after they leave office through retirement or by being voted out. However, the amount they are paid is based on the length of their service and their age.

False Claims to Congressional Pensions

Facts and Figures

  • The max that a retiring Congressman can receive is up to 80% of their final salary.
  • Right now there are roughly 433 retired members of Congress whom are receiving pension from the US Government.
  • Of these 433, 290 are receiving their benefits from an older plan that was much more generous. The average pension salary for members of this group is around $60,972 per year.
  • The other 143 are receiving benefits based on a newer system that brings their average benefits to $30,952.
  • That is a total of $22,108,016 per year in benefits paid or an average of $51,058 per year per retired congressman.
  • If they were actually paid $174,000 for life as many internet memes and unchecked fact statements circulating online than the total would be $75,342,000.

Pension Guidelines stated on the U.S. Senate’s "Virtual Reference Desk" site

Members of Congress are eligible for a pension at age 62 if they have completed at least five years of service. They are eligible for a pension at age 50 if they have completed 20 years of service, or at any age after completing 25 years of service. The amount of the pension depends on years of service and the average of the highest three years of salary. By law, the starting amount of a member’s retirement annuity may not exceed 80 percent of his or her final salary.

Why the belief that Congressmen are paid so well?

The numbers I provided above are averages. So there are some retirees that earn next to nothing and their are some who spent 20-30 years in Congress that make six figures.

The truth of the matter is that only about 1 in 6 retired Congress people end up earning pensions over $100,000 per year. Even though that still seems like a lot, remember that this a position that cost them great deals of money and time to earn. They have very little job security as well.

These few that make a lot more than average tend to make the news which skews the perspective of the general population. I have listed a couple links below that show this news trend.

This is another example of the misquote saying that it is "on top of receiving $174,000".
This is another example of the misquote saying that it is "on top of receiving $174,000".

Double Dipping

The other issue that has many US Citizens upset is that many of these retirees are collecting income from another position while receiving these pensions.

Not all Congress People Want to Strain the US For Their Own Personal Gain.

Conclusions

Congress People have the opportunity to save for retirement like any other citizen. Personally, I don't think we should have to subsidize their lifestyle if we vote them out of office for doing a bad job. Especially with how Congress has acted in the last 12 months with government shutdowns, I don't believe they deserve such a benefit.

Regardless of how you feel about this issue, it is important to know that their pensions are not as high as many are led to believe. There are a select few that make 2-3 times what the average worker makes in a year as a pension, but they had to serve 20-30 years in office to reach that level.

© 2013 Eric Niehoff

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