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LA City Hall braces for retirement wave

About 50,000 people work for the city of Los Angeles. By 2018, more than 40 percent of them will be eligible for retirement.
About 50,000 people work for the city of Los Angeles. By 2018, more than 40 percent of them will be eligible for retirement.
Hubert Lowman/HS Crocker Co

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It's a statistic they've known for a while now, but it's inching ever closer: More than 40 percent of the city of L.A.'s 45,000 employees will become eligible for retirement by 2018.

The wave of retirement is mostly due to an aging workforce, something that's happening all across the country, said Dr. Fernando Guerra, who runs the Center for the Study of Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University (and is a member of KPCC's Board of Trustees).

"We're seeing the tail end of the Baby Boomers," Guerra said, explaining that some of the city's retirement-eligible workers have been eligible for years but have continued working because they expect to live longer and need to save more money.

"The Great Recession and the cost of living forces many people who would want to retire but have to keep working to make sure that they have the right retirement or resources to keep their quality of life," he said.

City workers are retirement eligible when they reach age 55 and have 30 years on the job. But most employees don't retire when they hit the 30-year mark, said Raul Lemus, assistant general manager of the city's personnel department.

The city does not know how many of the 18,000+ city employees who will be eligible to retire in 2018 will do so, but officials are preparing nonetheless, and have been for several years.

In 2015, the city began to address potential labor shortages when the city council and Mayor Eric Garcetti set the goal of hiring 5,000 city employees by 2018.

In a statement, Garcetti's office called that "a goal we are ahead of schedule to meet." City leaders have considered expanding parental leave benefits to attract applicants. And each city department has created a "succession plan" to prepare for potential holes in the office.

"By rearranging the work, or by preparing their current staff to move up through the ranks, and what kind of outreach they may request the personnel department to conduct to fill the jobs they're projecting they'll need to fill in the future," Lemus said. "[We're] looking at different ways we can attract new blood into the city."

The city is using social media to find job seekers, and it's created a recruitment campaign, dubbed "Create the Future of L.A." to appeal to 20- and 30-somethings. Lemus said the city worked with a consultant to tailor a message to millenials, highlighting the impact of public service.

"We're letting people know that the work here, it's going to have meaning," he said. "There's going to be an impact on your community when you work for the city."

The city is also preparing to launch a pilot program to expand the applicant pool. Currently, job seekers must take the city's entrance exam at City Hall. The pilot program would allow them to test in more convenient locations, including online.

Guerra said the public sector can struggle to compete with the private sector on salary, especially in Los Angeles, with its higher cost of living. However, he said, city jobs come with generous pensions not offered by the private sector.

"If you have an employee that thinks long-term and understands that, that is a competitive advantage that the city of Los Angeles has," he said.