A far more relevant measure of the public-pension burden is how much a typical full-career state employee retiring today receives. In a new study for the American Enterprise Institute, I compiled data from pensions plans’ Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports, which show the average benefits paid to a newly retired state government employee with at least 30 years of job tenure. Public-safety employees, who typically receive the most generous pensions, are excluded from these figures. These are not one-off examples of egregious abuses. They are what the average full-career employee actually received in retirement.

The typical full-career state worker retiring this year will receive an annual pension of $36,000, nearly double the $19,000 figure cited by Afscme. Add Social Security benefits, which state-government employees receive in 43 states, and the average rises to more than $51,000. These averages include states such as Mississippi, Indiana and Kansas where pension benefits don’t appear overgenerous and aren’t controversial.

In California, by contrast, a typical full-career worker retiring today receives $61,560, plus roughly $20,000 in Social Security benefits. In Oregon the average new pension benefit is $58,188, while West Virginia pays $49,141 plus Social Security.