In 2022 the Labor Center began to see increasing numbers of reports from news media and stakeholders that excessive job vacancies in local government were a significant challenge. We set out to conduct an exploratory research project to understand if California local government employers were facing obstacles filling vacant positions and what factors could be contributing to high numbers of vacancies. Our research method involved triangulating data from three sources: interviews with subject matter experts, vacant position data from three counties, and publicly available data, reports, and audits on staffing and vacancy issues in local government. We summarize our initial findings here.
We find that job vacancies in local government appear to be a widespread and significant problem for the public sector affecting a wide range of occupations across wage levels and educational requirements. Our interviewees reported that challenges with job vacancies had been building slowly for some time before 2020 and were exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent recovery. Interviewees pointed to multiple interlinking factors they felt contributed to local governments’ struggles to fill job vacancies, including a tight labor market, increased voluntary turnover, changing labor force demographics, underinvestment in local government, difficulty competing with the private sector and other government agencies on earnings in the context of high costs of living in California, high growth in demand for workers in certain occupations (especially behavioral health and nursing), and long and cumbersome hiring processes. High job vacancies impact not only public service delivery but also the workers who are forced to handle heavier workloads. Understaffing can lead to burnout and increased turnover, further exacerbating staffing challenges.
Our report concludes with suggested policy solutions raised by subject matter experts and other reports and analyses on job vacancy challenges in local government. We discuss and provide examples for the following possible policy goals:
- Systematically and comprehensively gather and publish data on vacancies
- Set up labor-management vacancy committees or task forces
- Investigate compensation rates and raise pay to attract and retain employees
- Improve other aspects of job quality and focus on retention
- Improve pipelines into government jobs
- Improve hiring processes
Download the report “Civil Service Vacancies in California: 2022–2023.”