Where Have All the Government Workers Gone?

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Empty street in Bergamo Italy due to COVID-19 shutdowns

Government workers haven’t returned to their jobs.

What do you call it when hundreds of thousands of government jobs have been vacated since the beginning of the pandemic, and no one is willing to fill them?

A good start!

Here’s a very interesting statement in the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ latest jobs report.

“Total nonfarm employment is down by 524,000, or 0.3 percent, from its pre-pandemic level in February 2020. Private-sector employment has recovered the net job losses due to the pandemic and is 140,000 higher than in February 2020, while government employment is 664,000 lower.”

So, while the private sector labor force has recovered all of its loses from the pandemic and actually grown a bit—though not quite equal to the population growth over that time period—government employment is down by 664,000.

Of course, that discrepancy raises the question: why?

Axios suggests it may be because government jobs pay less. “Government employers are competing for workers in a super-tight labor market, and they have less to offer: The jobs typically pay less, for starters.”

But that’s not what the data show.

Of course, this data is only for state and local government workers, but federal workers tend to make more than state and local. And notice that government workers tend to do better in both salaries and benefits.

Axios also suggests that many of the non-returners may be public school teachers, and explains, “Today’s teachers are navigating the threat of school shootings, a pandemic and intensifying political interference in their lesson plans—all while their wages remain stagnant.”

But many school districts increased wages or provided financial bonuses when teachers returned to the classroom.

So at least at this point, it’s not entirely clear why so many government jobs have gone unfilled. More importantly, it’s not entirely clear that’s a bad thing.

Originally published by the Institute for Policy Innovation. Republished with permission. For more Budget & Tax News.

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