For the 216th month in a row, the Great Retirement Tsunami that was supposed to cost Uncle Sam tens of thousands of his best-and-brightest hasn’t happened. Again.
And for the first month in a row, the mass exodus of civil servants fleeing the new administration —TrumpExit — also didn’t happen. Despite predictions by some, fewer federal workers applied for retirement in December of last year, or January 2017 than did in in 2016 and 2015. In some cases, a lot fewer. To explain what happened, or rather what didn’t happen, we need to return to the last year of the last century.
Sometime in 1999, an expert or experts looking at the aging federal workforce predicted a sooner-rather-than-later tidal wave of retirements would be hitting Uncle Sam. In addition to the large number of people at or near retirement eligibility, the experts said that years of small pay raises would push tens of thousands out the door and onto the shuffleboard courts. When those raises went from small to zero — while retirees were getting small cost of living adjustments — that added fuel (or water) to the GRT theory. Still nothing. People are not retiring in large numbers. Backers of the GRT theory said that the Great Recession — when many private sector workers were taking pay cuts or being laid off — was a factor in the fact that federal retirements hadn’t spiked.
The retirement tidal wave forecasts got new life/hope when Donald Trump surprised most experts by winning the Republican nomination. He later surprised virtually all of the experts by winning the presidency because some experts and strategists had forgotten about a little old thing like the Electoral College. Love him or not, there have been pre-and-post Trump predictions that thousands of bureaucrats would flee civil service haven cities, like Washington, Baltimore, New York City, Philadelphia, Chicago, Denver, Seattle, San Jose and San Francisco —especially them — at the same time more affluent Hollywood stars boarded their private jets seeking havens in Canada, Switzerland or Botswana —anywhere but here — either seeking citizenship (you might want to check their income tax rates first, folks), or at least a safe haven over the next four years.
As Federal News Radioreported yesterday, a total of 15,317 feds put in their retirement papers in January. While that’s a lot — January is the most popular pull-the-plug month — it is 100 fewer than applied for retirement in January 2016 and about 3,300 fewer than in January 2015.
So what, if anything, do the rather stagnant numbers mean? Are the “fearful feds” cited by some sources biding their time? Will they finally screw up the courage to leave in February? Or is it going to be business as usual, with people retiring when they are eligible and when they are ready?
As for the GRT, when is that puppy going to hit? It has to eventually/someday, because the experts are never wrong, right?