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Large Increase in Federal Retirement Claims in FY2018

The Office of Personnel Management released data showing that the number of federal employees who filed for retirement in FY2018 increased 24% over the previous year. OPM published its retirement processing statistics and it showed that 7,142 employees filed for retirement in September, which is the final month of the government’s fiscal year, bringing the total federal retirement claims in FY2018 to 105,298—a 24.1% increase over the number of claims from the federal workforce in FY2017, which had 84,807.

Many have warned of an impending wave of federal employee retirements, citing the fact that federal employees skew older than their private sector counterparts. In July 14% of the federal workforce was eligible to retire, and in 5 years, that number is expected to jump to 30%.

There has also been speculation that federal employees would leave service since the election of President Trump, but that hasn’t panned out. In fact, in FY2017, 10% fewer employees filed for retirement than in FY2016.

Donald Kettl, a professor and academic director at the University of Texas Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, thinks a combination of factors has likely led to the spike in retirements this past fiscal year.

“Two theories are worth noting: one is that the long-predicted ‘silver tsunami’ is happening,” Kettl said. “The federal workforce is substantially older than in the private sector, so the inevitable might finally be occurring. That is even more likely with the stock market in record territory, as workers decide to cash in. The other is a Trump effect—the possibility that government officials are deciding to leave, given the high levels of tension in some agencies and proposals to downsize and reorganize others.”

Another potential factor has been the Trump administrations’ efforts to lower the federal government’s personnel costs, although this has not been successful. OPM acting director Margaret Weichert suggested that federal employees are not in government for the pay, however, recent data suggests that compensation does play a role in people choosing to retire. During the Obama administration, there was a freeze on federal employee pay from 2011-2013 and locality pay was frozen from 2010-2015. Federal employee retirements as recent as FY2016 totaled 94,985, 12% higher than FY2017.