Why Aren’t All Teachers Covered By Social Security?

By 12/26/2014

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Most people probably don’t realize not all workers are covered under Social Security. In particular, teachers constitute one of the largest groups of uncovered workers. Nationwide, approximately 1.2 million teachers (about 40 percent of all public K–12 teachers) are not covered under Social Security for their time in the classroom.

How did we get here?

Why are some teachers covered, and others aren’t?

As we write about in our new report, the exclusion of teachers from Social Security comes from decisions made decades ago. State workers were left out of the original Social Security Act in 1935, initially because of concerns whether the federal government could tax state and local governments. Later when states were given the opportunity to extend coverage to public sector workers in the 1950s, most states chose to extend coverage. A handful of states, however, chose not to. Instead, these states bet they could provide better coverage through state pension plans alone than through the combination of a pension and Social Security. Indeed, pension benefits for full-career far workers typically have a higher rate of investment return than Social Security. However, this arrangement works well only for the small percentage of teachers who stay 30 or more years in a single retirement system.

Today’s reality is that over half of new teachers will not qualify for a pension at all; and for those who do qualify, many will receive pensions worth less than their own contributions. For a state that opts out of Social Security, at the very least, one would expect that they offered teachers sufficient retirement benefits for each year of work. But that’s far from the case under current systems, which prioritize backloading benefits for full-career workers over providing adequate benefits for all.

Today, the majority of uncovered teachers work 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. Additional states have varied coverage where many teachers also remain left out.

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Source: National Education Association, “Charteristics of Large Public Education Pension Plans,” 2010. 

Social Security coverage varies within states and sometimes even within districts. In California, almost all state government employees, state legislators, and judges are covered by CalPERS and Social Security. Teachers enrolled in the California Teachers State Retirement System (CalSTRS), however, are not covered by Social Security. Within the California schools and districts—superintendents and district employees tend to be covered by Social Security, whereas classroom teachers tend to be uncovered.

But states aren’t locked into keeping their teachers out of Social Security. When Social Security coverage was extended to the states in the 1950s, each state entered into what is called a Section 218 agreement with the Social Security Administration, detailing the extent of coverage. Today, federal law allows any state or local retirement system to modify their Section 218 agreement and join the program (states that opt into coverage can’t opt out). Certain states have state-level legislation that prohibit teachers from extending coverage, but most states do not have these barriers.

This provides an opportunity for states to reconsider their decades-old decisions. While not sufficient as a stand-alone benefit, Social Security could provide teachers with a floor of secure, inflation-protected, and portable benefits – something many teachers don’t have and genuinely need.

—Leslie Kan

This post originally appeared on TeacherPensions.org

Comment on this article
  • Sharon Dawson-Odendahl says:

    This is especially true for teachers with less than a full pension. I worked 22 years outside of teaching and then 24 years teaching. I get $328 a month from social security and only 52% of my teachers pension. It just isn’t fair.

  • joan murland says:

    Thank you for trying to make the public aware that keeping our SS from us is totally not fair. If we earned the money, then it should be given to us in total…not a sliver. How can we get this antiquated law irradicated? It is a matter of survival.

  • Virginia Bass says:

    This is a shock to many teachers at retirement. I receved statements every year about my Social Security benefits – then when I retired11 years ago I found out that I only received less that one-third of my benefit. The Public does not know this. A few Senators have tried to get rid of WEP. We do not make a Windfall. I earned every dime of my Social Security. Thank you President Reagan, for keping my money,.

  • Howard Landgrover says:

    Unless the federal law has changed, if you are paid a “substantial” income (inflation increases this most years) and pay social security tax on this income for a total of 30 years you will receive your full social security check without the windfall elimination provision affecting you. I went on to be in the Texas TRS for 17 years (after 34 years paying SS) and I get both full checks deposited to my account every month. Now you have to realize that I stopped paying social security tax when entering TRS, so my SS check is based on what I had paid in back then, not when I applied for it years later. It would have been much higher based on later years income and inflation. I wasn’t paying social security tax on the later 17 years. A portion of my pay went into a Teacher Retirement fund which happens to be a fixed anuity for life. http://financialducksinarow.com/4415/substantial-earnings-with-regard-to-wep/ gives a description of how this works. The IRS version can be confusing.

  • Joan Fitton says:

    Some of us had careers before and after teaching as well as second jobs while teaching. In all of these instances we had to pay into SS– independent of our teacher retirement funds. Seems like we should have access to these dollars that we put into the SS funds!

  • Wendy says:

    People who retire from the private sector are able to collect both their retirement and their full SS benefits? Public service employees should also be able to do this. It is unfair not to allow them to collect something they paid into. It would be like a bank not allowing you to withdraw your IRA funds when you retire if you already have another retirement!

  • Nancy. Christino says:

    Something has to done for us who have worked other jobs before teaching
    It is unfair to pay i,to something for so long, depend on it only to be getting a small portion.

  • Margaret Maslan says:

    Even worse than docking our Social Security benefits that we earned during our years of working before we became teachers, we are denied survivor benefits based on our spouse’s SS benefits if our spouse pre-deceases us. My husband will retire with 45 years of payments into SS. If he dies first, I will receive nothing, simply because 12 years ago I stepped into the classroom in California to begin a second career (after paying into SS myself for 20 years). If I had never taught or if I had worked at any other job, I would be entitled to survivor benefits. Instead, I will only have a tiny teacher pension that will wipe out my own SS benefit.

  • Captain Obvious says:

    With my wife and I being teachers for most of our lives, we were emphatic about our 3 children not going into teaching(writing was on the wall even back then). Luckily, they followed our advice. Two of them are in their late 20’s and have their master’s degree and have 6 figure incomes. Our youngest is still in college but her degree field will put her on salary with her siblings. Although we tried to be the best parents we could be, thank the lord that we have children who listened to us. So sad what the future holds for the newest generation of educators.

  • Carol E. Huff says:

    I taught in 5 other states for 26 years paying into SS and those states’ teacher retirement plans. But after moving to LA and working here , I automatically have my benefits cut drastically. Why don’t those years count?

  • J.Q Public says:

    Maybe your teacher unions aren’t doing a good job. Maybe time to dump them and get some new leadership. The pensions they do get for you and other public employees are bankrupting many municipalities.

  • Virginia Starling says:

    I think we should receive the benefits from Social Security when we worked in the private sector. Why penalize teachers? Any one else working out there and had their benefits docked would go mad and demand what belonged to them.

  • GMichael Carr says:

    I have worked since I was 16 paying into SS. As a teacher, I worked 1 extra job due to poor salaries and I continue to work and pay into SS after my retirement. It is totally unfair that this benefit was reduced to pennies during the Reagan Administration. Why are we being punished?

  • Linda Williams says:

    How do we fix this. Who do we contact?

  • EllenRavnan says:

    No one believes me when I tell them this. Glad to hear something is beginning to change.

  • Nancy Boggan says:

    A very sad part of all this is the SS office’s around our state don’t know the law. The first time I went to talk to them I was told I would not get any SS because I was going to retire under teacher retirement. I moved to larger city and spoke to SS there. They gave me the proper information and I am now retired and receiving a percentage of my SS. So the SS office’s don’t even know what to tell people.

  • Margie Hunt says:

    I have thought maybe I should become a lobbyist for teachers. This is an absolute travesty! I spent 20 years in business before completing my degree and beginning a 23-year teaching career that just ended. I’m thinking I’d be quite comfortable if I had 43 years in TRS! It seems to me that teachers should get TRS for the years they teach and Social Security for the years spent in business. I receive $250 from Social Security–seriously–after contributing for over 20 years?!

  • Sharon Huggins says:

    It is the same for me. I worked in the private sector and paid into Social Security for 26 years. I got a Master’s Degree and a teaching credential. You don’t get paid based on life experience as a teacher. You get paid based on year and education, so I had to start over on the salary schedule without the opportunity to negotiate my pay. Now my pension is dependent on me working for another 20 years and working up the steps on the salary schedule and I will receive maybe 40% of the Social Security money I paid into the program during my 26 years of work in the private sector. It’s the opposite of double-dipping. I’m getting double-dinged. Not only is it not fair to individuals stuck in the current system, it is unattractive to talented and experienced professionals who might otherwise consider teaching as a career at a time when we need good teachers. It’s time for this to be changed.

  • Debra says:

    Contact your senators this week and tell he/she that you support bill S1651. It has been introduced and will go to the Senate next. Share this info with as many as you can.

  • Charlotte says:

    There are some state workers in all states that are penalized under this unfair law. Social Security and state pensions are separate entities. One has absolutely nothing to do with the other. Treat them as private pensions.

  • TracyLou says:

    Dear Mr. Public (of which you poorly represent)

    The pensions that teachers are contributing into are NOT bankrupting the municipalities, it’s the purposeful MISmanagaement of the pensions by the corrupt politicians (eg. Chris Christie, et al) and their Wall Street funders, quid-pri-quo, payola, all kinds of unethical behavior.

  • betty says:

    KY has spent out all of their state retirement- 26 billion dollar deficit- and aren’t correcting it. Excluding from SS should be illegal and needs to stop.

  • D.W says:

    Let me ask, are the teachers in those states PAYING the Social Security tax on top of their pension programs?
    I feel if you are putting money in you should be getting money out. But the problem is in those states if their money is going to a privately funded pension program, how do they feel they earned the Social Security at the end of their work history? It sucks in the long run but if they never put any money into it, the system set up screwed them big time. Just asking since I don’t know.

  • Leslie Kan says:

    Thank you all for your comments – please let me know if you are interested in sharing your story on TeacherPensions.org and/or talking more about your individual experience. Email: teacherpensions@bellwethereducation.org

  • T. Rhodes says:

    I worked in the private sector and paid into SS for almost 20 years prior to teaching. Due to the Windfall Act and outdated statutes, I will not collect on those years, only on the years I have paid into the KY Teacher Retirement System (KTRS). KY does not allow teachers to opt out of KTRS in favor of SS. Due to my age and years of service, I pay heavily into an annuity to supplement my retirement, when the time comes.

  • Katie says:

    DW, these teachers are not trying to get money that they did not pay in. They are (almost all) saying they worked non teaching jobs before, during or after teaching and those paid into SS benefits are being drastically reduced or eliminated because of a silly law that makes no sense. They should get the teacher retirement for the years they taught and also collect SS for the years they paid into that as well! I am a teacher in CA and cannot see how WEP is fair in any way.

  • Barb C. says:

    Our Colorado public employee pension plan is wonderful; and NEA has been working to over turn the GPO and WEP penalties. Educators who pay into SS for 30 years or more are not penalized at all. There is more to this than meets the eye; join your Union and get ALL the facts.

  • leoFromChicago says:

    Since working for the state of Illinois in one of the state colleges, my Social Security estimate has gone from $2k per month to $1k per month — or otherwise half gone up in smoke. Meanwhile the crummy 403b I get won’t even cover this loss.

    The only kind of retirement plan you can call this is, the “Work Till You Drop Dead Retirement Plan”. It is no “safe haven”.

  • Robray says:

    Why Aren’t All Teachers Covered By Social Security? …Because about 40% of the people in my building NEVER worked here and receive SSI!!!!! Perhaps an investigation needs to be done regarding these populations in NYC…. truly scandalous!!!

  • Opal Rabalais says:

    I wrote to Public officials a few years ago concerning this issue. One Democratic Senator stated in his reply that the WEP should be repealed, but that it would cost the government too much money if it was repealed. Another Republican Senator said that teachers would be “double dipping” if given the money that they earned before this ridiculous and unfair law was passed. He also stated that it would not be good for the economy, because it would cost the government too much money. There should be NO QUESTION of whether money that was earned should be given back to its rightful owners. I would never vote for either of these two Senators!! I am a retired teacher who just got Medicare, and I had always been told that even though I had more than 40 quarters outside of education, The WEP would effectively cause me to get none of my earned Social Security benefits. When I went to the Social Security office, imagine my surprise when the clerk told me, “I guess you know you can get another check from Social Security.” I told her that I had been told that I would not receive a benefit because of the WEP offset. Well, needless to say, it was not even close to the Social Security that I paid in. I received 243.00 per month. 104.00 of this will be taken out to pay my part A Medicare which is a plus. Then I will get a BIG 139.00 check per month. Better a little bit than none, but I resent for all of we public servants who worked in the private sector and paid in to Social Security that we will not have all of the money that we earned returned to us instead of a paltry sum. I encourage all public servants to voice their concerns with this injustice. WE WORKED FOR THIS MONEY!!!! IT IS NOT THE GOVERNMENTS TO DECIDE WHETHER OR NOT WE SHOULD HAVE IT RETURNED!!! Also, for any citizen who agrees with my position, public servant or not, write to your Senators, Congressmen, etc. and add your voice to ours to right this grievous wrong PLEASE!!!!

  • Pam Brauer says:

    As you know, Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) has introduced a new bill, S.1651, that would repeal both the GPO and the WEP. This bill will be a companion to Rodney Davis’ House bill, HR 973. Please join the 11 Senators who have signed on as original sponsors. My future retirement depends on these 2 repeals!

    I grew up in poverty in Kansas. I worked very low paying jobs starting at Dairy Queen when I was 16 until 1988 when I started teaching. I paid my own way through college. I got a Masters Degree as a Reading Specialist. I paid off all student loans. I have never collected unemployment. I will start my 24th year as a Title 1 Reading teacher in a Missouri elementary school. Every day, I witness 450 students getting FREE bus service, FREE breakfast, FREE books/supplies, FREE lunch, FREE tutoring and FREE parental involvement activities. I paid for EVERYTHING that my 2 daughters needed for school, including their college educations at KState and KU. I was my mother-in-law’s caregiver. I took care of my sick husband for 4 years. He just passed away. When I went to Social Security, I was terribly distressed! I have paid NEA dues for 24 years. I am a member of PSRS and eligible to retire today using the Rule of 80 formula. NEA, PSRS, my school district and Social Security statement never informed or prepared me and my husband for WEP and GPO! I can’t retire today!!! As I looked at my husband’s Social Security statement online, I assumed that as his widow, I would start receiving half of his $2,000 spousal benefit. The first time I went to SS, a representative gave me wrong information. I made an appointment and talked for an hour with another SS representative who gave me 3 different scenarios concerning benefits. Totally confusing! As it stands, I will not be entitled to my personal benefit of $550 per month at age 62 because of WEP. I will only get $250. Who gets my other $300? As it stands, I will not be entitled to the $1,000 per month spousal benefit at age 62 because GPO thinks my PSRS pension will be more than adequate. Who gets my husband’s $86,000 from his career ….he left it for his family? Who gets to keep my spousal benefit? I need to pay bills! Oh, my SS statement states that I don’t have enough credits for disability. That’s because of my low paying wages as a young adult. As a senior citizen, my PSRS pension will not be adequate! I’ve never imagined that someone would accuse me of “double-dipping”. I’m almost 59. I have bad knees. I want to retire now. I’m a widow who wants to leave behind a small inheritance for my 2 daughters. But my pension would be $3,700 a month…I have to take 15% tax out, that’s $3,700 – $555…then I have to have insurance at $780 for me and my daughter…that leaves $2,365 per month…but my monthly budget for living in my nice family home is $3,000. I want to spend money and spur on the American economy. I don’t want to leave the Middle Class and live in poverty again. I want to retire in comfort and be able to afford assisted-care if needed. I want to save money, not count my pennies! I don’t want to downsize and live on a fixed-income. I have worked too hard being a productive citizen, raising a family and teaching kids how to read. It is totally Un-American to be subjected to WEP and GPO!!!
    PLEASE…REPEAL…WEP and GPO! God bless America! Sincerely, Pam Brauer

  • Diana D'Emeraude says:

    I’ve taught 20+ years in Texas. For some of those years, I paid into SS and state teacher retirement. I also had several years (at mostly very low paying jobs) where I paid into SS. SS says I did not pay in enough to collect on SS — except while I’m working and not collecting on Teacher Retirement, I can collect on my ex’s as I was married over ten years. If/when I retire, I fall under the windfall rule. I paid into both and feel I should be able to collect on both. Even if I do, it will be much less than the tiny teacher’s pay I receive now.

  • Teri says:

    Social security is not enough to live on. So everyone needs a 401K or employer pension plan. I will have all three! Social security, 401K and employer pension. I’ve been putting 11-15% of my income into a 401K, that is my only saving grace. I suggest everyone who is presently working or planning on working to plan for your retirement. It makes no sense to complain about what you don’t have, 401K’s have been available since 1980, if you put 10% of your income into a 401K for 50 years with compounded interest and smart investment you will have a nice supplement to your social security. I have been contributing since 1999, I suggest you do the same.

  • Cyndi says:

    My mother in law never worked a day in her life and when her husband passed away she received his full SS benefit. I devoted my life to education and when my husband died, I was not eligible for one dime of it after 28 years of marriage. So wrong.

  • Charlie R says:

    I spent 20 years in the military and then worked for 7 more years as a military contractor. I have now been teaching for 3 years and plan on doing so for another 15 or so years. Why should I not get my full SS? I am forced to pay 14.9% of my pay into my teacher retirement fund. Just does not seem fair does it.

  • Carolyn says:

    Many teachers who worked fifteen or twenty years paying into social security before teaching do not get a $3000 retirement. They may be lucky to get $1500, then get only 40% of earned social security…perhaps 350 at best. Congress should set at least a minimum income of $2500 before reducing benefits. That is barely over poverty levels, and thanks to this law and the unwillingness of teaching programs to publicize it, many jeopardize their futures when they become teachers.

  • Carolyn says:

    I also suggest a law that every teacher, firefighter, and policeman entering a training program must sign a waiver acknowledging that after five years of employment they will be waiving up to 60% of their earned social security income, and forfeiting an amount equal to their pension of a spousal survivor income. This must also be ‘re-signed in the fourth year of employment in that field. You may see some empty seats in the programs. Call it the civil servant Miranda.

  • Barbe Kempf says:

    When Obamaa was elected, I made the intention of writing to him about this debacle. Back then, we were all into “How do we stimulate the economy?” Wel, think about it if we retired teachers were paid both our teachers’ pensions and SS, how that would stimulate the economy. Typically, we teachers are in the middle class and that is where the economy will be stimulated by us buying another car, etc. The 1% DO NOT stimulate the economy at all, because everything is a write off. That’s a very immature statement. I apologize. But I guess the point of my comment is presenting to our Congress what a stimulus it would be if we received both (earned) benefits. You all know3 that basically most of our SSI would go to buying things, not savings at this point in our lives.

  • Tina S. says:

    This truly is absurd and an insult to one’s intelligence. These states should state losing teachers and then maybe some politicians will get on this problem. So we are looking at working people from some states who put in their years paying SS and getting nothing in return. Horrific!

  • Catie Lambie says:

    My husband just died this Jun. I am 65 and only worked for 18 years as a teacher as I had to retire early to care for him after he had a stroke. When he passed I found out that not only did I not get any of my social security but also none of his. Now he only got 924.00 per month and I would have qualified for about of 340.00 per month, but I get nothing. Not any of mine and not any of his. My teachers retirement from California was not that much since I didn’t start teaching until I was 37. This has been a terrible shock and I am now teaching again in rural Alaska because my retirement income from California is not enough. I am really too old to be doing this and it is so unfair. I get no other money from my husband so this is it. Makes you want to tell young people not to go into this field. There is no respect for teachers.

  • Shirley Smith says:

    I am in the same boat as Catie. I started teaching late in life, and when I retired, got a little in pension. None of my deceased husband’s SS (even though he died before retirement) has come to me. When I asked the lady at the SS office what happens to all the money he paid into the system for over 45 years, she said it stays in the system. It isn’t fair…it was HIS money, he paid into the system, he or his heirs should get the benefit.

  • Pat says:

    My husband worked for 45 years paying into SS. For the last 25 years of his working career, he paid 30% of his wages in taxes because he was self-employed. After he passed away, the government took away 66% of his SS from me because I was a retired public employee. If I get an increase, I have to inform the government so they can then lower the SS benefit. Some day, I’ll probably have to pay the government just to live.

  • mdavis says:

    I will only have worked 24 years as a teacher when I retire, the rest of the time I worked for the private sector. I will only be able to collect maybe 1/3 of my SS. So I don’t get a full retirement from being a teacher, nor do I get SS. How is that fair? All I am asking for is what I earned and put into SS, I would gladly accept a check in the full amount and invest it for a more comfortable future. As is I am still working although I am in my late 60’s.

  • LA says:

    I agree with DW – As I understand it, those teachers working in states that are not eligible for SS are currently NOT contributing to SS. Social Security is an average of years worked. If there are some years no contributions were put in, the person should not be eligible.

  • Charles says:

    If you are not paying any social security tax, then don’t expect to receive ant benefits. The sad fact is that the state chooses not to pay the matching social security as the employer, so they just cheat the teachers our of their social security and then they also don’t fund their pensions either. It is a disaster waiting to happen. It isn’t really the teachers fault.

  • Charles says:

    No 8% pension or savings plan is going to give you enough money. You better have another savings plan on the side and also an IRA or something like that.

  • Mary says:

    As an ex teacher who because of a special needs child quit my job as a principal to have fewer hours and then because of the demands worked as a poorly paid adjunct college instructor at a state college under the SURS union, I had the bad fortune after 29 years of marriage to get a divorce in a state (OHIO) where if a hubby had an inheritance , even if he co-mingled the money, he was able to get every penny inherited back years later. So there went the house of which much of my money went into. Looking at my 25,000 pension, and no house, I started to put money into a SEP…….but the reality of our economy hit. I’m with a reputable stock brokerage – Wealth Advantage, but I’ve lost every penny I put into the SEP in the downturned market. And now because my pension is in Illinois, I’m in collection because Illinois is not paying any medical bills for anyone on a SURS teacher’s pension. So no house, small teacher’s pension, not able to get any medical bills paid, but no Obamacare because I’m insured, none of the Social Security payments which would equal my small pension, and no way to make money grow through interest or the stock market. I have osteo, am not in good health and am working more than 40 hours a week at two jobs. I’m terrified when I can no longer do that. Will I eventually be on the street? I was always middle class, but am on the verge of experiencing poverty. And to make matters worse, if you have a SURS teacher’s pension in Illinois and are divorced, when your ex dies you can’t collect a penny of his pension money even after 29 years. The new wife gets what should have gone to you (unlike protection of Social Security). I would advise anyone NOT to work as a teacher just because it guarantees a future of poverty.

  • Glen says:

    It would be GREAT to see this democrat created travesty repealed.
    (Speaks to the state of public education that anyone lays blame anywhere other than at democrat Dan Rostenkowski’s feet, as democrat Dan Rostenkowski was the man who introduced WEP to Congress).


  • Carolyn says:

    If you were able to move to another state that will pay ss, would you be able to collect on ss? If this is a loophole I need to know. Thank heavens my children aren’t teachers.

  • William C. says:

    After 20 years of teaching I am retiring. I fully expected to collect SS based on 26 years of full contributions based on the high income I received from working in the construction industry. I have now found I will receive $600 a month less than some one else that paid the same into SS for 26 years for no other reason other than my becoming a teacher. I have paid into both systems in full and should receive full benefits. Unfortunately no one in power is listening nor do they care. If they were this injustice would not have started let alone continued these past 30+ years. Now that those that are truly being effected are retiring we should unite and fight this unfair, if not illegal, practice. Any one in power listening?

  • Catherine says:

    I too paid into Social Security. I worked for 20 years in the states of Indiana and Florida. When I was 35 I moved to Maine and became a teacher. I lost Social Security money that I had paid into the system only because I became a teacher. Those two period of my life should have had nothing to do with each other. When I chose to teach children I lost two-thirds of my Social Security that I had coming. I am being penalized because I chose to teach children.

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