By: Ted Dabrowski and John Klingner

Teacher pensions have not been a point of discussion during the recent Chicago Teachers Union strike, though they should be. After all, it’s pensions that are primarily threatening the solvency of both the City of Chicago and Chicago Public Schools.

Pensions and other benefits make up 25 percent of CPS’ budget and a large part of teachers’ overall compensation. Mayor Lightfoot has already made a firm proposal to raise the average teacher’s salary by 24 percent and those raises will translate into bigger debts for the district.

The average retired CPS teacher already receives a pension of nearly $55,000 a year, according to a 2019 FOIA request to the Chicago Teachers’ Pension Fund.

However, looking at the pension of an average teacher far understates the true size of CPS pensions. The “average” benefit includes teachers who only worked a few years for CPS, which brings down the average. 

To get a more accurate picture of what pensions are really worth, look at career teachers. Over half of all currently retired CPS teachers worked 30 years or more. On average, they receive a $72,000 annual pension and began drawing benefits at age 61. 

In comparison, the average annual Social Security payment in Chicago is just $16,000 and the maximum benefit for someone retiring at age 62 is $26,500.

The U.S. Census Bureau also reports that the average retirement income in Chicago totaled $30,000 in 2017.

Even more, the average career CPS pension will grow by 3 percent, compounded annually, due to the COLA benefits teachers get. That will double a teacher’s annual benefit to over $140,000 in 25 years. 

In all, a career CPS teacher can expect to collect, on average, over $2.2 million in retirement benefits.

That total benefit is all the more lucrative considering how little Chicago teachers contribute to their own pensions.

A CPS teacher is supposed to pay 9 percent of her salary to the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund every year. However, since 1981, CPS has paid for, or “picked up,” 7 of that 9 percent as an additional perk for teachers.

That means a recently retired career CPS teacher only contributed, on average, 2 percent of her yearly salaries toward her pension. That was just $35,500 in lifetime contributions in exchange for $2.2 million in benefits over her retirement.

Higher salaries

Those pension benefits will rise due to the salary increases Lightfoot has already offered the CTU. Salaries and benefits for CPS workers make up two-thirds of the district’s budget and raising them will be a prime reason for any new tax hike levied on Chicagoans. 

In total, Lightfoot offered teacher raises reportedly worth $350 million. She laid out what the increases for some employees would look like under the district’s proposal.

Currently at $54,000, the CPS offer would push the salaries of today’s 2nd-year teachers to $73,000 in just five years – a 35 percent increase. 

Today’s average school nurse will do even better. She’ll see a 48 percent jump in her salary to just under $73,000. 

And today’s average teacher, making nearly $79,000, will earn nearly $98,000 in 2024. That’s a 24 percent increase. 

Those raises are all a function of Lightfoot’s proposed 5-year labor contract that provides guaranteed raises and cost-of-living adjustments. 

The true burden

Pension debts will also go up as CPS adds additional staffing. Lightfoot has made verbal commitments to increase just nurse and social worker staffing over the next five years by 450 people alone. The CTU is demanding far more than that. They want the guaranteed hiring of thousands more support staff. 

All that will increase pressure on Chicago households that are already on the hook for more than $150 billion in combined state and local retirement debts, according to numbers based on Moody’s calculations. Divvy up that shortfall over Chicagoans with the means to pay – those with incomes over $75,000 – and the result is an impossible, future tax burden of nearly $400,000 per household.

Nobody is on the side of ordinary Chicagoans when it comes to the teachers strike. No matter who “wins,” ordinary Chicagoans are going to lose big.

In a burdensome city like Chicago, that’s a big deal. Another unaffordable contract that costs hundreds of millions, if not billions, more will only exacerbate Chicagoans’ pain and drive more of them out of the city. That will leave a larger bill for those who remain, creating a perpetual spiral of higher taxes and more out-migration.

The reality is nothing will change until politicians like Lightfoot demand the two reforms that will do the most to save the city: a roll-back in the state’s collective bargaining laws and a constitutional amendment for pensions.


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This is stupid

Can Lori just fire all teachers still on strike on Nov 1 and hire new one at cheaper salary? It will help the pension problem. the most of those on strike wants to go back to work and keep their jobs and pension.

Charlotte Aines

The union is not finished with Lori yet. Give it a few more days and a couple more millions $$ in demands agreed to by the mayor and it should be wrapped up by friday

Wise Wally

Teachers should strike for 9 months and work 3. This is character building for the teachers who do not know world reality.

Red Flabeats

Has anybody stopped and asked where this additional money will come from. Does Lightfoot think the federal government will step in at some point and bail Chicago out? News flash…the federal government is 23 trillion dollars in debt. There is no bail out coming. The reality is, Chicago can’t or won’t be able to pay what it has promised in past labor contracts, let alone this one. Adding even one dollar of additional debt or pension liability is irresponsible. Your going to see massive fire and police layoffs happen as a result of all this. The money has to come… Read more »


You cant blame people who work for asking for more pay and better working conditions.
The pension disaster is not on teachers….

Daley and the politival machine made the pension deal with CTU to get themselves elected. Then made deals with developers and lined their pockets.

Direct you Anger towards the leaders of this city…
They over promised and under delivered…


In the past, CTU willingly diverted money set aside for pensions to fund their salary increases. Have they paid they pension systems back yet?


Ah, the ‘blame Bush’ syndrome. There hasn’t been a daley in office in nearly a decade and you’re still blaming an old Democrat mayor. The deals with those developers bring wealthy residents into the city and tax revenue to PAY YOUR SALARIES AND PENSIONS, you goof. They generate tax revenue. Money just don’t magically appear to pay your ilk – it comes from the pockets of people like me. Well, I actually left the city a decade ago precisely because of the awful schools. Blame the administration all you want but you and your ilk are the goofs actually teaching… Read more »


You have asked and been granted but, apparently not even the world is enough for some people. At what point does the greed of employees of the city bleeding it dry become the fault of those employees?


If Harvey and east St Louis were garnished for pension funds, why hasn’t Chicago? The “solution” to pension funding might be to garnish Chicago too. Is Chicago somehow exempt from the pension funding garnishment law? I’m eternally thankful I don’t live in Chicago, I’d be righteously mad, just watching it I can be entertainedly mad with my beliefs about the inferiority of socialism proven daily. By the time this cancer spreads to the state and my town, I’ll be long gone.

Tom Berman

Thanks for another great article from Wirepoints. My initial reaction to this strike was outrage at how ridiculous all the CTU demands were, especially considering Chicago’s financial condition. However, upon further reflection, if this strike causes Mayor Lightfoot to cave in and give even more money to CTU members then maybe it will hasten the inevitable collapse and bankruptcy of the city. As has been well described by Wirepoints, there really is no possible way for the city (not to mention the State of Illinois) to ever pay for all the promised DB pensions. The city will at some point… Read more »


Ted–is the +$700 million the state picked up for cps teachers pensions included in cps $7.7 billion budget?

Yes, but not $700M. It does include the new support CPS is getting from the state for the normal costs of pensions – $200M+. It also includes the gains it got under the new funding formula – some $200 M+.

And it also includes new capital money from the state – some $191 M – part of the $45 B capital bill passed in Springfield.

Anthony con

For years Chicago was in the hook for teachers pensions , Chicago was also on the hook through state taxes were in the hook for teachers throughout the state for their pension payments. Chicago tax payer has been on the hook for far to long. The state should be in the hook like the rest of the teachers throughout the state. That would solve a lot of Chicago’s woes.

Ditmar Redfern

25,000 teachers on strike for a system of 300,000 students.They are complaining about class size?

Do the math!


Ditmar–Thats what i keep saying also. S.Karp at wttw claims aprox 13,000 of 25,000 ctu member are class room teachers, but that still 300,000 students ÷13,000 teachers= 23 student teacher ratio (think cps site states a 22 student teacher ratio). Thats not 40 kids to a class room. But what are the job catagories of all those other 12,000 ctu members and 12,000 seiu staff and who knows how many contract workers, subsitutes, etc…zero reporting, your just supposed to buy the ctu hype cps is under staffed which the press gobbles up

Ray FedUp

I agree. 300000 divided by 25000 is 12 students per teacher. Rearrange the classes and teachers and you have optimum class size.

Pension Accountant

Negotiations are supposed to be give-take, but all I see here is a continuous take-take relationship that gets re-negotiated every 3-5 years in Chicago at the taxpayer’s expense. I don’t have any issue with anything the teachers are asking for, but if they want the higher salaries and improved support staff, shouldn’t they be willing to give up something (like maybe that 7% pickup)? It’s time to shut down the Defined Benefit pension plan to any new entrants, and curtail current plan members from accruing additional years of service and salary increases towards their final payout. Instead use the 7%… Read more »

Ray FedUp

That’s another problem with the pensions. The teachers barely contribute to their pensions. It’s picked up by the city. This happened over the years so the raises didn’t look so big. Lets have some discussion on this and let everyone know what is going on.


Check out (Better Government Association) Scroll to salary database or pension database. You can then check if you know someone. Look at pension contributions and pensions. Top one makes $616K/year or $51,000/month for 2019 and growing.

Dr. Livingstone

Teachers deserve to make a good living especially those who have earned Masters and PhD degrees. There’s nothing more important than our Educators. Give the teachers everything they ask for. They’ve earned it.



Governor of Alderaan


Jerry McMorrow

These pension numbers are amazing and crazy! The city and CPS should do what it takes to move city workers and teachers to a 403B plan vs. a defined pension plan like over 90% of private business. And tie increases to exactly the same as Social Security increases. I see pensions as a much bigger problem than current salaries.




Correct. We never own our homes. Perpetual taxation. The only service we need are police/fire on every structure including hospitals (here in Rockford a new $515M Mercy health facility with “0” in property tax’s). There may be few ways to get around the tax problem. #1. Declare our homes as a church. IRS rules are somewhat lax in determining what constitutes a church. #2. We could say we have a major disability like mental illness. Proof would be we still live in Illinois and I could find 49 doctors in other states that would attest that I’m not playing with… Read more »


Correct. Taxation = theft. Plain and simple. And for the folks that think this is an extremist view, Chicago is exhibit A.

Anthony con

Join a union then and quit complaining. The unions job is to work for employees to get them as much as they can. Some are popular some are not. But because of unions you don’t need a college degree to make 100k a year. They help the middle class thrive. So how are you feel about the employees the unions do what they are supposed to do. A lot more then we can say about our politicians.


Incorrect anthony, they represent the most senior members of the union throw everyone else under the bus. They steal from everyone else to engorge themselves at the expense of others.

And the unions are totally, horribly corrupt, more so than any level of government. Totally corrupt.



Mayor Lightfoot should just present the CTU with the sum of money that is available for education and tell the Union to decide how to divide it up between pay increases, pension funding, and financing the cost of lower class size and hiring nurses et al that they demand.

And go back to work or be fired.


Pensions have been miss handled by all , They weren’t originally thought out on how to find them properly ,,,, First off why weren’t they funded as to support themselves ! Why can’t the government open Casinos that pump money into the pension funds as to finance them only!


An elegant solution: 1. Teachers and IMRF eligible administrators DEMAND that they stop getting “defined benefits” pensions and OPEBS. 2. Teachers and administrators demand that they be allowed to pay into social security like all other American taxpayers. Teachers and administrators thus become eligible for the same pension entitlements as taxpayers who were formerly made adversarial victims of financial exploitation under a one-sided deal. 3. Teachers and administrators demand to be given, instead of sciopathically predatory defined benefits, 401k and matching contributions plan similar to nurses in Illinois hospitals, who work for very similar annual salaries but must work 2000… Read more »

Ditmar Redfern

Looking at these teachers on strike you can see that they consider themselves each queens of their clans.These salaries and pensions pay for far more than themselves.How many unemployed and unemployable family members pumping out babies? They claim to be full time mothers.Right,in this day and age you can afford to be a full time mother with an absentee father.

Looking at the strikers you know that they aren’t teaching proper dietary requirements.Most every single one of them is “Chunga” – Look it up on You Tube


“In comparison, the average annual Social Security payment in Chicago is just $16,000 and the maximum benefit for someone retiring at age 62 is $26,500.”

Let’s raise taxes on ‘the rich’ to make all retirees benefits $62,500 at 62 instead of $26,500. I want the CTU to add this to their list of demands.

Cass Andra

They (CTU and its members) understand the probability that they won’t get the pensions they expect. Thus, they want as much as they can get “in the pocket” now together with boosting their nominal pension amount so that at bankruptcy they can claim a larger slice of the pie vs. bondholders and other creditors. Those who have taken the time to understand the likely outcome are acting in the teachers’ best interest, all things considered. They may be selfish people when compared to taxpayers and those whose health care and welfare and highways will suffer, but they are not dumb… Read more »

Platinum Goose

I think that’s exactly what’s going on. I don’t think it’s very smart of them to use this strike to swell their ranks. If they do get a bigger piece of the pie it will just get split between more people.


Fantastic writing Ted & John..isnt another of ctu’s ever changing list of a zillion strike demands is for ‘end of carrier’ pay seeeteners (ie pension spikes).