State and Local Government Workforce: 2011 Realities


Retaining staff needed for core services, reducing employee health care costs, and addressing employee morale and workload problems are the top workforce issues facing local and state governments. (5/11)

Center for State and Local Government Excellence
Publication date:
May 2011
Filed under:
Key findings:
  • 25 percent of respondents report that employees are accelerating their plans for retirement
  • 71 percent say their workforce has shrunk since the 2008 economic downturn
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S & L Govt Workforce_2011 Realities_11-220

Workforce changes most commonly cited are:

  • 25 percent of respondents report that employees are accelerating their plans for retirement
  • 71 percent say their workforce has shrunk since the 2008 economic downturn
  • Shifted more health care costs to employees (72 percent)
  • Pay freezes (62 percent)
  • Hiring freezes (54 percent)
  • Layoffs (41 percent)
  • Created wellness programs (33 percent)
  • Shifted more health care costs to retirees (23 percent)
  • Raised contributions to pension plans (23 percent, new hires; 22 percent, current employees)

The survey is a follow-up to one the Center conducted in late fall 2009, The Great Recession and the State and Local Government Workforce. The survey was conducted among members of the International Public Management Association for Human Resources (IPMA-HR) and the National Association of State Personnel Executives (NASPE) from April 18– May 3, 2011. Three hundred and sixty-three (363) members took part in the survey. Of the members who responded to the electronic questionnaire, 80 percent work for local government; 14 percent for state government; .3 percent for federal government; and 6.1 percent for a non-government sector. Some questions elicited more responses than others.

“As they face hiring freezes, morale issues, layoffs, and accelerating retirements, more than 70 percent of state and local governments say staff development is a priority issue,” said Center President and CEO Elizabeth Kellar. “This takes on added importance as you examine trend data. The number of retirement-eligible employees who have moved up their retirement date has more than doubled in the last year.”

Respondents report that they continue to have a hard time filling a number of positions, including engineers; environmental, chemical, and forensic credentialed professionals; finance; police and firefighters; information technology professionals; librarians; nurses and physicians; middle and top management; skilled trades; and social workers.

“The survey results confirm that the public sector continues to face extremely challenging times, with difficult workforce issues that need to be addressed,” said Neil E. Reichenberg,
executive director of IPMA-HR. “The actions taken by the public sector over the past several years to address budget gaps have resulted in a smaller workforce facing increased workloads. One of the key challenges for the public sector will be to remain an employer of choice that can compete for talent, especially in critical high skills areas.”

“As the survey findings indicate, the fiscal crisis has forced a number of difficult decisions that have significantly affected the public sector workforce,” added Leslie Scott, director of NASPE. “With furloughs, pay cuts, and additional out-of-pocket expenses for benefits, coupled with an increased workload and often intense media scrutiny, public sector employee morale is low. Earlier this year, NASPE members, identified low employee morale as the number one issue facing state government HR executives.”