Incoming Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson can collect $1.1 million teacher’s pension despite having taught only 4 years in Chicago Public Schools

Newly elected as mayor of Chicago, former teacher and union organizer Brandon Johnson, exemplifies why the State of Illinois faces a $210 billion unfunded public employee pension liability, thought by some independent expert observers to be even larger.

As the Illinois Policy Review points out, after teaching a mere 4 years in a Chicago classroom, Mayor John is able to receive retirement benefits totaling $1.1 million over his expected lifetime. And, if he plays his cards right going forward, his public pensions could total $2.8 million, which is a nest egg most Americans could only fantasize about. No wonder he is smiling:

The details are complex, for we are talking about government bureaucracies, after all:

Johnson was previously employed as a teacher at Chicago Public Schools, where he was a Tier 1 participant in the Chicago Teachers’ Pension Fund. Johnson was only a social studies teacher for four fiscal years, from 2008-2011, according to data from the Illinois State Board of Education. Then he went on to work for the Chicago Teachers Union as a paid activist.

Because of a loophole in Illinois’ pension code, Johnson appears to have been allowed to continue to participate in the Chicago teachers pension, even though he was no longer a school employee. Normally, teachers must work at Chicago Public Schools for five years to become eligible to retire with a pension.

The Illinois Pension Code allows Johnson to continue to accumulate creditable service towards his pension as a result of his employment with CTU, because he was a participant in the teachers pension system prior to 2012. This loophole has since been closed for those who began participating in the pension system after Jan. 5, 2012.

As a CTU employee, Johnson has received an additional 12 years of service credit with the pension system – enough time to become eligible to receive a pension in retirement. Johnson’s retirement benefit from the teachers system will likely be based on his union salary, which has averaged nearly $90,000 annually during the past four years. He earned an average of less than $58,000 during his four years of teaching.

Johnson’s current service credits with the teachers pension make him eligible to retire at age 62 with full benefits. If he does so, he would be expected to receive nearly $1.1 million in pension payments during retirement.

The really big payout of $2.8 million would require Johnson to keep his union job, thereby accumulating service credit (despite not working as a teacher), and inflation adjustments, while living to the average life expectancy of 85 for theose who reach retirement age.


Should Johnson’s employment with CTU end, he could accumulate 10 years of service credit in the Cook County Pension Fund to become eligible to draw a retirement from the county independently. That would give him a pension from both the Chicago Teachers’ Pension Fund and the Cook County Pension Fund. Even if he doesn’t ultimately vest in the Cook County fund, Johnson could still get a boosted pension under the Illinois Retirement Systems Reciprocal Act.

The reciprocal act gives retiring Illinois public employees the option to receive a pension based on the combined service credit earned within eligible retirement systems. Often it allows a larger pension payout and for the person to collect a pension earlier than if they had to retire independently from funds.

The reciprocal act could allow Johnson to collect pension benefits from Cook County regardless of whether he participates for the minimum 10 years. It could also allow him to retire earlier and collect larger payouts than he’d otherwise be eligible for.

Clearly, the rules are structured to allow retired public employees every possible opportunity to bump up their retirement benefits. This is because the unions own the state government and the city government. That arrangement is now continuing as Mayor Johnson will be sitting across the negotiating table from the Chicago teachers Union, where he formerly worked, and whose support was THE most important factor in his election. So, who is looking out for the interests of taxpayers?

That’s why the Chicago Teachers’ Pension Fund unfunded liability of $13.8 billion will only grow and grow. Guess who is on the hook for that? That’s right, taxpayers, maybe even all American taxpayers if and when a federal bailout is offered.  

Photo credit: YouTube screengrab (cropped)

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