Retirement tidal wave still coming, but when?

Starting in the mid-1990s various experts looked at the aging federal workforce and concluded that the end, for many of them, was near.

For (at least) the 246th month in a row the long-predicted retirement tsunami still hasn’t hit Uncle Sam. Much of the institutional memory some “experts” said would be long gone by now is still with us. Or it has been replaced in an orderly manner unimagined by tidal wave predictors.

Starting in the mid-1990s various experts looked at the aging federal workforce, which had an average age 47.4 years in 2015, crunched some numbers, talked to some civil servants and concluded that the end, for many of them, was near. Various politicians and Office of Personnel Management directors predicted a major loss of talent was just around the corner. In 2014 the Government Accountability Office estimated that more than 31% of the federal population, or 600,000 quasi-seniors, would be eligible to retire by 2017.

Except they didn’t, and still haven’t. OPM reported a drop in retirement claims for December 2019 and 2020 even though December and January are the most popular months for government workers to retire.

After languishing for decades, predictions of a tidal wave from government service surfaced again thanks to long-shot predictions that Donald J. Trump might somehow squeak into office. When it actually happened many of the experts, who are nothing if not flexible, warned that a lot of people would feel they had to get out of government — by the thousands. Some prominent feds did “resign” under protest but people who can count and understand civil service retirement rules knew that in fact they technically retired on a lifetime annuity linked to inflation rather than resigned.

As Inauguration Day approached some experts, wearing new hats as political and social trend forecasters, said there would be an exodus of feds, especially in agencies with social or environmental missions. While that would have thrilled many Trump appointees it again fizzled.

Back in 2018 the Office of Personnel Management reported that the average age of workers was going up slightly each year, and that it varied by sex, race and even by state. In 2018, FedSmith said federal civil servants in Hawaii stayed on the job the longest while feds in Kentucky led the government in terms of workers getting out ASAP.  Maybe to move to Hawaii?

So what are the experts continuing to miss each time the tidal wave fails to materialize? The numbers are on their side, the workforce is aging but aging in place. So what’s up?

One long-time career postal executive said he had planned to depart several years ago. But he’s sticking around, he said, because he is worried about his Thrift Savings Plan account when the next major correction of 20% or more hits the market.

“The bull market has been running 10 years. I know it can’t last … and that more frequent corrections are natural. But that doesn’t help when you face the retirement decision.”

Another retirement age fed said he had planned to retire when/if his TSP account balance hit $1 million. That happened a few years back.

“Now my goal is $2 million,” he said, which he thinks he will hit by mid-year. So how about you?

Are you still reporting for duty every day? How come? And how’s that working out? Are people under 30 on the endangered species in your office or agency?

Whatever your reasons I’d like to hear them. We’ll keep your name confidential, but there are a lot of people who would like to know what your thinking and why.

Create your own user feedback survey

Nearly Useless Factoid

By Amelia Brust

When margarine was introduced to the U.S. market in 1873 as a cheaper substitute for butter, dairy producers, lobbied against its manufacturing and marketing. One tactic was to limit how much the substance could resemble butter, so by 1898, 26 states passed “anti-color” laws prohibiting the manufacture and sale of yellow-colored margarine. Vermont, New Hampshire and South Dakota even required margarine to be colored pink. To get around state and later federal restrictions and higher taxes on colored margarine, manufacturers sold the product uncolored but with dye capsules people could mix into the spread.

Source: Smithsonian Magazine

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