Bay Area Jobs Outlook II - Public Employees Retiring En Masse

Categories: Business

In the next decade, three million Californians will retire. Who will do their jobs?

By Joe Eskenazi

In Part I of our series on the future of jobs in the Bay Area, we analyzed the hot fields (i.e. health care) and not-so-hot fields (i.e. anything connected to the subprime mortgage meltdown).

And yet, for a Generation X or Y job-seeker, all fields may soon be hot, thanks to Father Time.

“A lot of people look at the economy and say you’ve got to get an engineering degree at Berkeley or flip hamburgers. Now, that’s a stretch. But the real challenge for California that doesn’t get talked about much is retirements in public service,” said Steve Levy, the co-founder of the Center for Continuing Study of the California Economy in Palo Alto.

“Come to Palo Alto. Half the [city’s] staff could retire in the next five years.”

Over the next decade, an estimated 3 million Californians will retire as the baby boomers hit Social Security age. And while Levy notes that ...

yes, health care and Google and whatnot are certainly good fields to be in, the mass boomer retirements cut “across the skill and wage spectrum.

“To put a face on it, these are firefighters, paramedics, people who work in management positions in government, school teachers and librarians. It’s a whole [world] of jobs nobody talks about because people always seem to be there. But we’ve never faced this level of retirement,” he continued.

Talk of mass retirements can soon lead you to conjure up mental images of empty, echoing government chambers, abandoned cubicles, and bus drivers ferrying only themselves about downtown. Well, that too is a stretch. But it’s not as stretchy as you’d think.

Levy told me he personally heard a PG&E higher-up confirm that half of the power company’s linemen are eligible to retire in the next several years. Ditto for the Sunnyvale and San Jose water-treatment plants.

This is not just a local phenomenon. Over the next six years, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that nearly only one-third of the open jobs in the United States will be “new.” The vast majority will be “replacement jobs.”

“There is going to be negative growth in production jobs but there’ll be openings because of retirements. There will be very little growth in sales and office jobs – but for every new job there’ll be five in replacements,” said Levy.

“So if you look at [the fastest-growing] new jobs people will tell you health care and tech – and that’s true. But looking just at job growth gives you a very misleading picture of where people should point their aspirations and training.

“Newly created jobs aren’t all that’s in the game.”

Tomorrow, in the conclusion of our series on the Bay Area jobs, we’ll dig deep into employment statistics and find out how much damn money everyone is making. Are you underpaid? You’ll find out soon.

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