About 550,000 full-time career federal government and U.S. Postal Service could hang it up and move on at anytime because they are eligible to retire, according to government statistics. The eligible workers represent about a quarter of the 2.4 million permanent full-time employees collecting government or postal paychecks.
The Office of Personnel Management, which compiles and releases federal personnel and retirement statistics, shared the numbers Thursday following inquiries by The Washington Post. Federal workers, their union leaders and other close observers warned this week that proposals to significantly increase payroll deductions of federal workers to contribute to their pension funds may hasten an exodus of older, experienced workers eligible to retire.
Lawmakers and White House negotiators are seriously considering the proposal as one of just a few areas of agreement on how to reduce the federal deficit, The Post reported this week.
The OPM retirement figures include postal workers, because though they are paid separately by the Postal Service, they participate in CSRS or FERS. The Postal Service is a quasi-government agency that is funded only by mail-related revenues. USPS employed about 541,000 full-time career workers as of May 1, according to a spokeswoman.
A federal or postal worker is currently eligible to retire if they meet one of the following seven criteria:
1.) They are covered by FERS, are at least 56 years old (the minimum retirement age for FERS) and have at least 30 years of service.
2.) They are covered by FERS, are at least 60 years old and have at least 20 years of service.
3.) They are covered by FERS, are at least 62 years old and have at least five years of service.
4.) They are covered by FERS, are at least 56 years old and have at least 10 years of service. (Workers who opt to retire with these criteria however collect a smaller anuity.)
5.) They are covered by CSRS, are at least 55 years old, and have at least 30 years of service.
6.) They are covered by CSRS, are at least 60 years old, and have at least 20 years of service.
7.) They are covered by CSRS, are at least 62 years old and have at least five years of service.
OPM officials could not say Thursday how many workers retired in fiscal 2010, but a Congressional Research Service report from April said 52,556 federal employees retired in fiscal 2010. The report didn’t include 2010 postal retirement figures.
In fiscal 2009, 87,907 full-time federal and postal employees retired, according to OPM, down from 103,292 who did so in 2006.
Those outside observers have warned for years that older, eligible federal employees are preparing to leave their jobs as the economy improves, leaving behind younger, less experienced colleagues.
Former Sen. Ted Kaufman (D-Del.), himself a former federal worker, warned last October that “At some point, instead of 10,000 retiring in one year, you’ll have 40,000 retire in six months. That’s what will happen — trust me — if this economy comes back and gets well and people have options.”
But OPM officials said Thursday that many eligible workers are staying on the job because they want to. The recent economic downturn may have also compelled them to keep working in order to rebuild their retirement savings, said the officials, who were not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.
An OPM study from 2008 showed that four years after first becoming eligible, more than 50 percent of workers were still on the job. Almost a quarter of them were still working nine years after reaching minimum eligibility levels.
Do you or someone you know plan to retire soon from the federal government or Postal Service? Why or why not? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.
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