Paul Ryan could get a pension of $84,930 a year—here's how that compares to most Americans

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI)
Aaron P. Bernstein | Reuters

House Speaker Paul Ryan announced that he will retire at the end of his term in January, giving up his prominent position and salary of $223,500 a year. But that doesn't mean the 48-year-old will have to start pinching pennies.

When he turns 50, he's likely entitled to a pension plan that Vanity Fair describes as "a golden parachute." If he is enrolled in the program offered to Congress members, the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS), he could receive $84,930 a year, assuming he sticks it out through January.

For most of America, by contrast, pension plans are only a memory: In total, only 23 percent of workers have one now, according to the most recent analysis from the Pension Rights Center, while in 2016 "pension benefits provided income to nearly one third of older adults."

Many U.S. employers have shifted away from offering pensions in favor of encouraging personal retirement accounts. But 401(k)s, which in any event are only available to some, have proven to be an insufficient alternative, leading some to conclude that "the grand 401(k) experiment has been a failure." Overall, Americans between the ages of 55 and 64 have a median of $120,000 saved for retirement, according to a recent Bankrate survey. That's only 12 percent of the $1 million experts recommend you have to count on once you've stopped working.

A 2015 report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office, meanwhile, found that 30 percent of households headed by someone 55 or older don't have any retirement savings or a pension, reports the Washington Post, which adds that the Economic Policy Institute found that the wealthiest 20 percent of Americans older than 65 own just about all of the $25 trillion total in U.S. retirement savings.

Jason Chaffetz: Members of Congress should get $30,000 a year in housing allowance
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Among workers who do receive pensions, their allotment varies based on who they worked for and how long they worked. In 2016, the median pension for adults over 65 who worked in the private sector was worth $9,262 a year. The median federal government pension, meanwhile, was $22,172, and for state and local government pensions, it was $17,576, according to the Pension Rights Center.

Averages can run higher: For those who spent their career working at the state government level, for example, the average pension benefit is $36,131 a year, according to a 2014 report from the American Enterprise Institute.

Ryan's pension is considerably more, in part thanks to his decision to leave office in January: "The annual payment to a retired member is determined in part by calculating the three highest-paying consecutive years of their career," Business Insider reports. At the end of 2018, Ryan will complete his third year as Speaker, his highest-earning role since he became a congressman in 1999. In addition, "of course, Ryan could also have other retirement savings from his time in the private sector or from the congressional Thrift Savings Plan, which functions like a 401(k)."


Some have pointed out that Ryan will potentially benefit from the kind of taxpayer-funded programs he has made efforts to do away with.

"Paul Ryan now enjoys the peace of mind that when he turns 50 — in less than two years — he will enjoy a defined-benefits pension of about $79K annually for the rest of his life, funded by the same taxpayers whose Social Security he's been trying to cut or privatize his entire career," writes Politico reporter Joshua Zeitz in a Tweet that has since gone viral.

"Addendum: Apparently he spent 4 yrs as a staff member before being elected to Congress, so the pension is closer to $85K," Zeitz followed up, citing Business Insider's report.

In 2005, Ryan co-sponsored a bill to privatize Social Security, around the time that George W. Bush announced that Social Security was "headed for bankruptcy," though the bill went nowhere. His legislation, "Road Map for America's Future," a few years later also contained privatization proposals.

Social Security allotments only come out to an average of under $16,000 a year. A report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that most elderly people in America rely on Social Security for the majority of their income and two out of five would be broke without it.

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Retirement in America is changing rapidly
Retirement in America is changing rapidly