By Andrea Riquier
More than half of all workers in the state and local government sector are considering leaving their jobs, even as the number of workers in the sector remains hundreds of thousands lower than before the pandemic.
That’s according to a report out Thursday from the MissionSquare Research Institute. “We’re teetering on the brink of a public sector workforce crisis,” the report concludes, as the “Great Resignation” ripples throughout the U.S. economy.
In some ways, this challenge for the public sector workforce is familiar: state and local governments shed hundreds of thousands of jobs during the Great Recession in 2008, and it took over a decade to recover.
That process repeated itself in the pandemic: governments slashed jobs in the spring of 2020. As of December, according to Labor Department data, the sector was 944,000 jobs below its pre-pandemic level.
But the dynamics are different in other ways.
After the Great Recession, state and local governments were reluctant to hire — and didn’t have the budget dollars to do so even if they wanted to. That austerity helped elongate the slow, tepid recovery from the downturn.
Now, governments are awash in cash — but workers are burned out. Between that and a recent rash of COVID cases, many essential services aren’t getting done.
The workers telling MissionSquare that they’re considering leaving the public sector for another job tended to be under age 40, African-American, working in K-12 education, and/or at high risk of exposure to COVID on the job.
And unhappily for the sector, one-quarter of those considering leaving their jobs are also considering leaving government work altogether.
Strikingly, the report notes, “showing more appreciation and recognition of employees outranked actions including improving benefits, increasing amount of leave allowed, offering more flexible scheduling, and offering more opportunities for remote work.”
Still, 62% of employees polled said increasing salaries would help employers retain workers, versus 38% saying “more appreciation and recognition” of workers was key.