ATLANTA–Federal government employees eligible for retirement are not retiring—yet—according to a new Georgia State University study, but the low percentage of federal workers under 30 suggests when they do, they could create a federal workforce crisis.
“There’s been all this fear of the ‘Silver Tsunami’ in the federal government, and there has been a lot of talk about the percentage of employees who are eligible to retire,” said government workforce expert and study co-author Greg Lewis, a professor and chair in the Andrew Young School of Policy Study’s Department of Public Management and Policy. “But the number of people who actually retire is many fewer than those who are eligible.”
The percentage of federal white-collar workers eligible to retire doubled between 1999 and 2007, but the number of federal retirements has not, according to the study. The Government Accountability Office estimates 600,000 federal employees (about 30 percent) will be eligible for retirement by September 2017.
Individuals who work for the federal government are older than the general workforce. Only seven-to-10 percent of federal white-collar workers are under the age of 30, according to Lewis.
Lewis and co-author David Pitts of the University of California, Irvine, studied behavior and intent to retire. They warn that if the Great Recession contributed to current low retirement rates and if managers are unable to discourage eligible federal employees from retiring, retirements may soon rise dramatically.
Their research indicates age, federal experience and pension design strongly influence when employees retire. Satisfaction with agency leadership seems to strongly affect retirement plans. Job satisfaction and the development of older employees also play a role in the decision.
The future of federal white-collar retirements remains uncertain, Lewis said.
“We don’t really know what’s going to happen,” he said. “We don’t know if the low probabilities of retirement will continue, or if we’ll go back to the levels we had before. For now, federal managers should look at what they can do to help prevent the large wave of retirements from happening.”
The study was recently published in the Review of Public Personnel Administration. Read the study →
Georgia State Expert
Professor and Chair
Department of Public Management and Policy
Andrew Young School of Policy Studies
Lewis researches on career patterns in the public service and on diversity issues more broadly. Recent work examines the impact of veterans’ preference, performance ratings, and aging on public sector work forces. Most of his work on public sector careers explicitly considers the impact of race and gender on pay, performance ratings, promotions, turnover, and access to veterans’ preference, among other topics.