Monday, Nov. 6, 2006 | On KPBS radio on a recent Friday, I heard U-T editor Bob Kittle singing a familiar tune; a San Diego pension of 140 percent of the employee’s highest one year salary. And by now I can name that tune in two notes. Not quite sure how he gets there, there is a 90 percent cap on pensions with one exception. Perhaps he adds in DROP savings, or deferred income, neither of which are pensions. But I won’t belabor the point; yes, I will admit there are a few high dollar pensions among city retirees. But there are also numerous top management positions within the city of San Diego and it takes top dollar to attract and retain qualified professionals, as the mayor can readily affirm.

But when that tune gets played over and over again some people might begin to believe that all (or even a majority of) retired city employees are enjoying those kinds of pensions. No so. For example, 454 pensioners now receive checks of less than $500 a month; 106 of these receive only $250 a month. Many of these older workers retired before 1980 and have only a $1,200 per year reimbursable health care benefit. There are also 1,372 retirees, or 21 percent, receiving pension checks whose yearly income places them below the Federal Poverty and Low Income threshold of $13,078. For beneficiaries, widows and widowers, the median income is $709 a month. And for retirees, 50 percent of them make less than $2,566 a month.

The distribution of pension payments is best illustrated as a bell curve, with high and low points. Bob Kittle has spent his time on the outer reaches of that curve, concentrating only on the highest values. By providing the information above, I hope to provide context for Mr. Kittle’s statement, painting a more complete picture. By providing the low end and the median, I would hope that some balance is added to the discussion; And we do of course want to have balanced coverage, don’t we?

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