Editor’s Viewpoint: How can we miss you if you won’t leave?
Baby Boomer stock was riding high only a few years ago, but the sputtering economy is about to change all that. To avoid cutting services and minimize increases to property taxes, cities and counties of all sizes will be forced to switch from worrying about the brain drain to reclassifying their most experienced employees from “must have” to “nice to have.” Their “value proposition” has fallen faster than a Chrysler dealership.
A few communities have been leading the Baby Boomer Smackdown by offering older workers financial incentives to step aside. For example, Merced County, Calif., created a voluntary retirement program to encourage its older employees to leave before the end of last year. Eighty-four people took the offer, including several 20-plus-year public safety officers. And, in early January, Huntsville, Ala., Mayor Tommy Battle recommended an early retirement incentive of $500 for every year of employment. The offer would be made to 256 city workers — including department heads — all of whom had at least 25 years of government service.
Because voluntary retirements are bound to be only partially effective in blasting the boomers into the Elysian Fields, other governments are beginning to use less flattering measures. Cleveland, for example, is considering mandatory retirement of police and firefighters at 65, according to a Cleveland Plain Dealer story this month. Previously, the city council had to approve extensions of employee tenure, but in June it passed that task to the city’s safety director. Both patrol officers and police supervisors rejected pay cuts last year, and now 98 of them face layoffs or demotions. As you would expect, the police and fire unions are now involved.
But, maybe too many of us have been hanging around too long — with the public sector boomer-aged employees leading the pack. Their median job tenure increased significantly over the past 25 years compared to the private sector, and today it is about 80 percent higher than private sector employees, according to an Employee Benefit Research Institute study released this month. The study also noted that 10 percent of public-sector workers have 25 or more years of experience.
However, there’s one group of public-sector employees that seems to have no problem saying good-bye. The number of Hawaiian government workers retiring last year increased by 34 percent compared with 2008, according to its Employees’ Retirement System. In December alone, 942 government employees retired, compared with 494 last year.
What could cause such a phenomena? Could it be that the only thing better than working in America’s paradise is not working in America’s paradise? No wonder they are running out the door.