Federal employees have an exit strategy. More than half -- 53 percent -- plan to retire by age 62. That's more than double the 24 percent of employees in the general workforce who are counting on retiring by then.
Younger out the door means longer in retirement. A full 38 percent of federal employees anticipate spending at least 25 years in retirement. Only 16 percent of general American workers think they'll spend that long after employment.
Federal employees have the means, too. Thirty-seven percent have accumulated more than $100,000 for retirement, compared to 23 percent of workers generally.
The Office of Personnel Management released the federal retirement statistics in August, compiled from a survey it conducted. Now a private think tank, the Employee Benefit Research Institute, has stacked OPM's results against similar questions from a survey of the general workforce, much of which is employed in the private sector. The comparison sheds new light on OPM's results.
Federal employees are a confident bunch when it comes to retirement. Almost half -- 49 percent -- said they are ahead of schedule in planning and saving. Only 7 percent of general workers put themselves in that category.
Institute researchers offered some reasons for that discrepancy. First, they noted a clear difference: the defined pension federal employees have in addition to a 401(k)-type plan -- a rare benefit for the general workforce. The number of private sector workers eligible to receive a traditional pension fell from 32 percent in 1993 to 21 percent in 2005, according to EBRI.
The second reason federal employees are better prepared for retirement: health care. Those who work in government for at least five years can keep their health insurance in retirement. Only 33 percent of private firms with 200 or more employees offered retiree health coverage in 2005, and the number is slipping fast. In 1991, 46 percent of these companies offered the insurance.
These two factors could explain why federal employees are so much more confident about retirement than other workers. Yet less than half of civil servants, or 48 percent, actually have taken the time to calculate how much money they will need once they leave. EBRI offers an online retirement calculator and OPM is designing one specifically for federal workers.
As James Sauber, research director for the National Association of Letter Carriers and chairman of the Employee Thrift Advisory Council, which provides advice for the federal employee 401(k)-style Thrift Savings Plan, said: "We're good savers, but we're just as bad at planning."