New MissionSquare Research Institute National Poll Finds Increased Employee Debt and Sustained COVID-19 Worries

Webinar on July 29 to Review Findings

As COVID-19 vaccination rates continue to climb across the U.S., the morale of state and local government employees is also on the rise. Positive morale regarding work among this segment of the workforce increased to 56% in May 2021, up from 41% in October 2020.

Despite improved job sentiment, nearly one-third (31%) of the state and local workforce indicate that working during the pandemic has made them consider changing jobs. Among those considering changing jobs, 25% say they would like to leave the government sector entirely.

These findings are contained in a new research report, 2021 Updated Survey Results:

Public Sector Employee Views on Finances and Employment Outlook Due to COVID-19, from MissionSquare Research Institute (formerly the Center for State and Local Government Excellence at ICMA-RC). The results are based on a national survey fielded by Greenwald Research in May 2021 of 1,203 full-time state and local government employees. Where applicable, comparisons are made between this survey and two prior surveys.

A webinar is scheduled for Thursday, July 29, 2021, at 2 p.m. ET to review the findings and respond to questions. Register at no charge.

Read a report infographic.

“This latest COVID impact survey has both encouraging and worrisome findings,” said Rivka Liss-Levinson, Ph.D., report author and Senior Research Manager at MissionSquare Research Institute. “While the widespread availability of vaccines is putting less pressure on the state and local workforce, the long-term workforce impacts of the pandemic could be problematic given that many workers are considering exiting their job or the public sector. The data suggest that the pandemic has only exacerbated the chronic challenge of recruiting and retaining employees who deliver essential public services.”

“Also troublesome is the financial impact of the pandemic on state and local workers.  About one-third have taken on more debt, while 38% of those with an emergency savings have had to spend those resources just to make ends meet. This is a clear signal that public employers must pay close attention to employee salaries, retirement benefits, and financial wellness programs,” Liss-Levinson said.

The research finds the following:

  • Although 60% of respondents report they value serving their community during this difficult time, 31% say that working during the pandemic has made them consider changing jobs.
  • Forty-one percent of state and local government employees say they and their families have been negatively impacted financially by the COVID-19 pandemic. Nearly one in three (31%) have had to take on more debt since the start of the pandemic, and 38% of those with an emergency fund have had to spend money from it during the pandemic to make ends meet.
  • The percentage of state and local employees who are working in person has more than doubled over the past year, from 26% in May 2020 to 58% in May 2021. Of those engaged in any in-person work, 74% consider it at least somewhat risky in terms of their potential exposure to people who may have COVID-19.
  • Eighty-one percent of respondents are concerned about keeping their family safe from contracting COVID-19. This level of concern has remained above 80% since May 2020.
  • Seventy-six percent of respondents reported that the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the nature of their job. Of those, 31% say that it has been extremely or very difficult to adjust to those changes.
  • The top three ways respondents say employers could make their organization a better place to work are by issuing bonuses or raises (21%), allowing work from home/remote work and flexible hours (20%) and promoting safety by following public health guidelines and providing/enforcing the use of personal protective equipment (17%).
  • Seventy percent of state and local government workers are fully vaccinated, and another 6% are partially vaccinated. The most influential factors in the decision to get vaccinated were ensuring their own personal health (63%), ensuring the health of friends and family (58%) and having the freedom to travel without worry (26%).

This research follows polling conducted in May and October 2020 to assess the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on public sector workers’ financial and employment outlooks and health and safety concerns. Visit for past infographics and reports.

Final data were weighted by gender, age, income and industry type to reflect the distribution of the state and local government workforce as found in the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey and the U.S. Census of Governments.


MissionSquare Research Institute (formerly the Center for State and Local Government Excellence at ICMA-RC) promotes excellence in state and local government and other public service organizations so they can attract and retain talented employees. The organization identifies leading practices and conducts research on retirement plans, health and wellness benefits, workforce demographics and skill set needs, labor force development and topics facing the not-for-profit industry and the education sector. MissionSquare Research Institute brings leaders together with respected researchers. For more information and to access research and publications, visit and follow on Twitter and LinkedIn.


MissionSquare Research Institute | Kelly Kenneally | 202-256-1445 | [email protected]