Young, healthy, idealistic and unemployed

The long-feared/awaited brain drain, first predicted in the late 1990s, may, at last, be upon us.

But instead of being a tidal wave sweeping tens of thousands of irreplaceable feds from their offices, labs and posts, the tsunami could be a blessing — at least for tens of thousands of unemployed or underemployed young people, who in better economic times might not even consider joining the civil service.

Think of the young people you know — maybe live with — who after graduating from high school or college (if lucky enough) haven’t been able find jobs in their chosen field. Or in some cases, in any field.

The bad-to-some news is that more and more people are retiring from federal agencies. Nearly 9,000 feds put in their papers in August. That’s about a thousand more than predicted by the Office of Personnel Management. Retirements have been running higher than expected for some months now. Best of all, OPM seems to be getting a handle on the backlog in processing claims that has long plagued the agency. In some cases, retirees claim they’ve had to wait a year or more before they got their first full annuity check. OPM Director John Berry last month told the National Active and Retired Federal Employees convention in Reno the agency hopes to reduce the backlog by this time next year, and to process 9 out of 10 applications within 60 days. To check on the pace, click here.

The potential good news is that lots of federal jobs — with steady paychecks, good benefits and hundreds of interesting career options — should be opening up. Maybe just in time.

According to a new poll, unemployment among so-called millennials (ages 18 to 29) is 12.7 percent compared to about 8.1 percent for the overall labor (or in many cases nonlabor) workforce. That’s according to Generation Opportunity, which bills itself as the largest-nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to youth unemployment issues. It’s headed by Paul T. Conway, formerly a top official at Labor and OPM.

The poll indicated that retirees on fixed incomes aren’t the only people who have changed their habits. Nine out of 10 millennials said the current economic situations — meaning in many cases either no job or a minimum wage position — have forced them to alter their lifestyles. That includes everything from skipping vacations, ratcheting down entertainment costs and even eliminating or regifting Christmas presents. Lack of spending from that age group — normally relatively flush with their first paychecks — is a further drag on the economy.

So if the retirement tidal wave hits, it may be a blow to the government’s institutional memory. Or not. But it could be the opportunity of a lifetime for thousands of young people, which the government always claims it wants and needs.

All of this will be moot, of course, if politicians (all of whom draw healthy federal paychecks, have excellent federal health insurance and anticipate robust, indexed-to-inflation pensions) fail to get their act together and allow sequestration, which would almost certainly mean furloughs and layoffs, to wreck the one section of the labor force that has, so far, escaped the recession.


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