US Government Needs a Youth Movement. A Shutdown Won’t Help.

One of the longer-term consequences of the looming government shutdown isn’t getting the attention it deserves: The youngest potential recruits are receiving yet another reminder of the challenges of public service, and at a time when they are desperately needed.

Now that the aging leadership of America has emerged as a top issue for voters, it’s time to acknowledge a problem as vast as the federal government itself.

About 31% of the country’s 2 million full-time federal employees will be eligible to retire at the end of 2025, and 47% will be eligible by the end of 2030. Meanwhile, the government is way behind the private sector in attracting young employees.

Just 7% of full-time federal workers are under the age of 30 — compared to about 20% in the US labor force. And in the federal information technology workforce, an area of great need, there are almost 14 times more employees over age 50 than under 30.

There are numerous existing obstacles that already stand in the way of getting a federal job, and these hurdles will be greatly compounded if Congress fails to fund the government with the annual appropriations bills by the Oct. 1 deadline. Hundreds of thousands of employees will be told to stay home, while more than a million civil servants will be required to work, all without a paycheck. Many government services and programs, along with recruiting and hiring, will grind to a halt. This is hardly a glowing advertisement for making government cool again.

There are many reasons young people do not consider public service: the federal government’s brand is suffering and trust in our leaders is low; job opportunities can be hard to find; and jobseekers must navigate an arcane and lengthy hiring process.