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Key developments in the world of federal employee benefits: health, pay, and much more.

Government Employees: Working Hard, or Hardly Working?

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These days, government service might appear less attractive to current federal employees and the general public, as feds head into the third year of a pay freeze and the threat of furloughs looms.

But according to one new survey, most respondents think public servants have it made: They don’t work as hard as those in the private sector, and they are paid better. Sixty-four percent of respondents to an October survey from Rasmussen Reports said private sector folks work harder than government workers while 58 percent believed the average government employee earned more annually than those at private companies. Of the 1,000 respondents, 69 percent thought government workers have more job security as well.

These results are not new, as even Rasmussen acknowledges. “All these findings have remained fairly consistent in surveys for several years,” the report stated. The interesting thing is government workers agree. “There's little difference of opinion between government workers and private sector employees on the pay and job security questions.” A plurality -- 49 percent -- of government workers agreed they don’t work as hard private sector employees, according to the survey.

Republicans and those who identified themselves as politically unaffiliated believed more strongly than Democrats that government workers earned more and toiled less than those in the private sector. Forty-three percent of respondents said it would be bad for the economy if the government hired more people. That figure is less than a high of 49 percent in a Rasmussen August survey.

Of course, there’s no easy answer to the question of whether government workers are overpaid and underworked compared to their private sector counterparts. The best answer to date is that some are and some aren’t. The federal workforce in particular is more educated, for example, than the general labor force, which skews some government salaries higher. Still, many government lawyers, doctors and scientists work fairly hard, but earn less money than they would command in the private sector.

The debate over who works harder and earns more won’t end anytime soon. But it does make me wonder, if most people think government employees have the best of all worlds (better job security, more pay, less stress), doesn’t that make them the ideal? Finding a job that pays well, is stable, and allows you to spend time with your family and friends should be something we all aspire to, right?

Retirement Surge

Federal retirements have increased steadily this past summer, with 11,952 new claims filed in September -- nearly 5,000 more than expected, according to the Office of Personnel Management. That’s the highest number of new claims in a single month this year since January, when the agency received 21,479 applications. Since the beginning of 2012, OPM has received 86,676 new retirement claims.

The trend is likely to continue through the end of 2012, although OPM’s projections seem a little conservative based on recent developments. The months of November, December and January typically see a spike in retirements. OPM expects to receive 7,000 new claims every month for the rest of the year and 21,000 in January. But there were only three months this year so far -- April, May and June -- when OPM received fewer claims than projected. Look for the last three months of 2012 to be busy, and January to be the high-water mark.

Senior Execs Investing for Retirement

Senior executives interested in learning more about investing wisely to get the most from their retirement should go online during their lunch hour Thursday. The Senior Executives Association is holding a free webinar from 12:00 to 1:00 on the basics of investing for retirement income and understanding its risks and returns. The webinar is available only to SEA members. Click here for more information.

Kellie Lunney covers federal pay and benefits issues, the budget process and financial management. After starting her career in journalism at Government Executive in 2000, she returned in 2008 after four years at sister publication National Journal writing profiles of influential Washingtonians. In 2006, she received a fellowship at the Ohio State University through the Kiplinger Public Affairs in Journalism program, where she worked on a project that looked at rebuilding affordable housing in Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina. She has appeared on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal, NPR and Feature Story News, where she participated in a weekly radio roundtable on the 2008 presidential campaign. In the late 1990s, she worked at the Housing and Urban Development Department as a career employee. She is a graduate of Colgate University.

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