Uncovered: Social Security, Retirement Uncertainty, and 1 Million Teachers

Leslie Kan and Chad Aldeman
Publication Date: 
December 18, 2014

Retirement savings are often described as a three-legged stool: Social Security, employer retirement plans, and personal savings. For many American workers, Social Security is the most consistent portion of the three-part model, providing a solid plank of retirement savings.

But nationwide, more than 1 million teachersabout 40% of all public K–12 teachers—are not covered by Social Security. Those teachers are concentrated in 15 states— Alaska, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Missouri, Nevada, Ohio, Rhode Island, and Texas—and the District of Columbia, where many or all public school teachers neither pay into nor receive benefits from the system. Teachers in those states face substantial uncertainty and must rely more heavily on their employer retirement plans (state pensions) and personal savings.

Unfortunately, state pension plans leave too many teachers unprotected. Half of today’s new teachers will not stay in a single pension system long enough to qualify for a pension when they retire. Even for teachers who do qualify, the existing structures offer minimal benefits even to those who stay for 10, 15, or even 20-plus years. The subsequent reality: many teachers not covered by Social Security are left with inadequate retirement savings from their time in the classroom.

At a time when an increasing number of states struggle with teacher recruitment and policymakers are concerned about retirement security more generally, states should look for ways to provide all teachers with secure retirement benefits. Social Security is not sufficient as a stand-alone retirement program, but case studies from three hypothetical teachers of varying experience levels show that teachers of all experience levels would benefit from Social Security coverage as one component of a comprehensive retirement plan. 

In Uncovered: Social Security, Retirement Uncertainty, and 1 Million Teachers, Leslie Kan and Chad Aldeman analyze the consequences of this policy choice. Read the full report here

Or download an accessible, condensed PowerPoint version here