The government is having a hard time hiring staff

Data: BLS via Julia Pollak, chief economist at ZipRecruiter; Map: Erin Davis/Axios Visuals

“We’re losing staff and can’t replace them,” a New Jersey high school teacher tells Axios, who helps explain what’s going on with the government job recovery — it’s lagging behind.

Send the news: While private sector jobs have surpassed pre-pandemic levels, there are 664,000 fewer people employed in the public sector, according to the government jobs report released Friday.

Why it matters: Government employers compete for workers in a super-tight job market, and they have less to offer: The jobs typically pay less, for starters.

  • “The postal service and public schools can’t offer workers higher wages,” Julia Pollak, chief economist at ZipRecruiter, told Axios in an email. “People have fled the public sector for the private sector, where signing bonuses and faster wage growth were much more accessible.”

Details: Government budgets set wage bands, which are more difficult to change in response to competition.

  • And while private sector employers offer hybrid and external options, government employment is typically not as flexible.
  • Meanwhile, the post-pandemic landscape in some areas, such as education, is making work a lot harder – more on that below.

The big picture: After the Great Recession, government employment also took longer to recover, but for a different reason: State and local governments were short on money as tax revenues fell and the federal government cut funding.

  • That shouldn’t be a problem now – the federal government has spent a lot of stimulus dollars and last year’s economic growth brought unexpected tax revenues.
  • There is an unusually high number of government job openings at the federal, state and local levels, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey.
Data: Bureau of Labor Statistics, JOLTS via Fred;  Graphics: Axios Visuals
Data: Bureau of Labor Statistics, JOLTS via Fred; Graphics: Axios Visuals

Zoom in: Teachers are a good case study — teaching jobs make up the bulk of state and local government employment — and they don’t do very well.

  • The high school teacher, who will not be named, said she teaches children with more behavioral problems, haunted by the specter of gun violence and harassed by increasingly angry parents.
  • “Today’s teachers are navigating the threat of school shootings, a pandemic and intensification of political interference in their lesson plans — while their wages are stagnant,” Axios’ Erica Pandey and Alison Snyder wrote last month, explaining the crisis.

What’s next: States take measures to absorb shortages.

  • Arizona just passed a law that allows schools to hire teachers before they graduate nearly a third of teaching positions were vacant as of January, reports Julia Shapero of Axios.

It comes down to: “My husband works in the tech industry and they pay recent graduates $120k to start,” the high school teacher said via a Twitter message exchange. “Who wants to teach for $50k, especially when they have student loans and the added risk of getting hit or shot in the building. My husband has never got into an argument or been cursed by a teenager.”

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