A new research brief provides a comprehensive overview of the U.S. public service workforce. The analysis includes state and local governments, K-12 schools, hospitals and health care, and social assistance organizations.

The research finds that there were 43 million workers in the public service sector in 2019, representing 26% of the total U.S. workforce. The largest components of this sector are in the education, general government, hospitals, and ambulatory health care fields. Looking ahead to projected employment through 2029, the research finds that the largest projected increase is for social assistance organizations, anticipated to grow from 4.1 million to 5.2 million jobs, or a 25% increase.

These findings are contained in a new issue brief from the Center for State and Local Government Excellence at ICMA-RC (SLGE at ICMA-RC), A Cross-Sector Review of Public Service Employment, authored by Gerald Young, Senior Research Analyst at SLGE at ICMA-RC. Download the research.

“The pandemic has shown us the importance of coordination and collaboration between state and local governments and other public service organizations, as they provide essential services to residents,” said Joshua Franzel, Managing Director, Center for State and Local Government Excellence at ICMA-RC. “Understanding the underlying structures and labor force needs of these organizations as employers helps inform their efforts to recruit and retain skilled employees, now and well into the future.”

We have proudly served the public sector for nearly 50 years, and more recently expanded our offerings to serve the education, health care and nonprofit sectors,” said Orlando Cruz, Senior Vice President at ICMA-RC. “This research facilitated by SLGE at ICMA-RC helps us bring further value to our clients, allowing us to make data-driven decisions that benefit participants and their families as they work towards building a secure retirement.”

The report finds:

  • Staff tenures with local and state governments (6.6 years and 5.6 years, respectively) are longer than for the private sector (3.7 years). Social assistance and health service fields have shorter tenures and high turnover (34% in 2019).
  • There are nonprofit organizations across a wide range of artistic, social service, and commercial industries, but the largest employment category is health care and social assistance, with 8.3 million employees.
  • Education employment is projected to see only minimal growth among local and state governments (0.3% and 1.8%, respectively), while private or nonprofit education employment is projected to increase by 15.4% by 2029.
  • In health care, services that are private or nonprofit based such as nursing and residential care and ambulatory healthcare services are projected to see increases of 10.5% and 18.5%, respectively by 2029.

SLGE at ICMA-RC also is examining the workforce environment for the public service sector, including forthcoming research regarding benefits provided to this segment of the workforce. Together, these studies will help identify common issues between the governmental and non-governmental portions of the public service workforce, particularly around employees’ desire to help their communities, and the ways in which employers can best recruit and retain talented staff.

Information for this report is derived from U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics datasets


The Center for State and Local Government Excellence at ICMA-RC

The Center for State and Local Government Excellence (SLGE) was founded in 2007 by ICMA-RC, and in 2021, the two organizations formally joined forces to form the Center for State and Local Government Excellence at ICMA-RC. SLGE helps local and state governments become knowledgeable and competitive employers so they can attract and retain a talented and committed workforce. It identifies leading practices and conducts research on public retirement plans, health and wellness benefits, workforce demographics and skill set needs, labor force development, as well as topics facing the not-for-profit industry and the education sector. Additionally, the center brings state and local leaders together with respected researchers. For more information, access to all research and publications, and to sign up for the center’s newsletter, visit slge.org and follow @4GovtExcellence on Twitter.

 Media Contact:

SLGE at ICMA-RC | Kelly Kenneally | 202.256.1445 | [email protected].