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New Center for State and Local Government Excellence at ICMA-RC Research Examines the Public Service Workforce

March 17, 2021

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, hospital, 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 toward 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 those 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), whereas 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 is also 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 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics datasets.

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