Survey Finds Government Workforce Shrinking Historically

Even though state and local governments are hiring again, workforces are smaller than before the 2008 downturn.  Recruitment and retention continue to be challenges.

MissionSquare Research Institute is an annual survey conducted by the Center for State and Local Government Excellence (MissionSquare Research Institute), the International Public Management Association for Human Resources (, and National Association of State Personnel Executives ( of human resource professionals.

Sixty-six (66) percent of respondents reported hiring employees in the past year, with 55 percent hiring more than they did in 2012. One-third reported hiring contract or temporary workers.

At the same time, the pace of retirements quickened: 49 percent reported higher levels of retirement in 2013 than 2012, and 22 percent reported employees had accelerated their retirement.

Changes to benefits continue:

  • Sixty-one (61) percent reported their government made changes to health benefits for both active and retired employees. The most common changes were to shift more costs from the employer to employees (53 percent) and to institute wellness programs (31 percent).
  • Thirty-five (35) percent reported their government altered retirement benefits over the last year, with about one-fourth requiring increased contributions to pensions from both current and new employees.

Looking ahead, the majority of respondents say their top concerns are:

  • recruiting and retaining qualified personnel
  • staff development
  • succession planning
  • employee morale
  • competitive compensation packages
  • public perception of government workers
  • reducing employee health care costs
  • dealing with increased employee workloads

“Although more local and state governments are able to hire again, it is difficult to find people with the right skill sets for the jobs,” noted Elizabeth Kellar, president/CEO, Center for State and Local Government Excellence. “Retaining and developing staff is a high priority, especially with the pace of retirements.”

“The survey results confirm that the economy is improving, although most government workforces are still smaller than they were in 2008,” added Neil Reichenberg, executive director, IPMA-HR. “The environment remains challenging for state and local governments due to a continued focus on reducing costs through changes to benefits and an increase in retirements as baby boomers leave the workforce. Not surprisingly, workforce and succession planning is seen as an important issue and this is likely to be the case for the foreseeable future.”

“Some of the trends we see have been consistent over the last five years, such as a majority of personnel executives reporting changes to health care benefits each year,” said Leslie Scott, director, National Association of State Personnel Executives. “Still, 61 percent reporting changes in 2013 is the highest level to date.”