Every day, you rely on public employees. When you drive on the highway, when you drink clean water, when your garbage is collected, or when your kids are in public school, you – and 330 million other Americans – are utilizing services provided by the public-sector workforce. But the public-sector is facing immense hiring shortages in the wake of Covid-19 and The Great Resignation, so the challenge remains: How do states attract and retain qualified workers to ensure Americans continue to have uninterrupted access to the public services they need?
Last week, TIME published an article detailing the pitfalls of staffing shortages in public services across the country. In February of this year, 1 million residents in Austin, Texas, were put under a boil water advisory when 20 employees of the water operations facility quit suddenly due to poor pay and working conditions. In Brunswick, Maine, residents lost access to their public ice skating rink because the parks and recreation department had insufficient personnel. Not only does the community suffer from these shortages, but the public-sector workforce is also being pushed to the brink. In Philadelphia, sanitation workers were levied with mandatory overtime and six-day work weeks to deal with their staff vacancies.
MissionSquare Research Institute reported in December 2021 that more than half of the public employees they surveyed said they currently consider leaving their positions to retire, change jobs, or leave the workforce altogether. Adding to this staffing shortage? The “silver tsunami” of Baby Boomers who are retiring. In 2019, 1.5 million Baby Boomers left the workforce, 3 million left in 2020, and 3.3 million left in 2021. Losing a large number of long-time public-sector employees with “institutional knowledge” and experience puts at risk the maintenance of roads and highways, public transportation, educational systems, and community safety. Don Kettl, a public policy professor at the University of Maryland, summarized, “The bottom line is that the people rely on government services, often without realizing it, and the core of the government services on which they rely is the people.”
Recently, Andrew Biggs, a senior fellow at the anti-worker think tank, American Enterprise Institute, released a study comparing public-sector compensation across all 50 states, focusing on Connecticut. Biggs concludes that the state pays its public employees 33% more than their private-sector counterparts. In part, according to Biggs, because of their benefits. Biggs argues that pensionable pay and bonuses inflate retirement benefits–that Connecticut public-sector employees already have an employer contribution rate that is 6x higher than their private-sector counterparts, and that higher salaries mean higher pension payouts, which Biggs argues will further stress the state’s current unfunded liability. He neglects to acknowledge that higher salaries also equal higher employee contributions, contributions that are made with each and every paycheck public employees receive. Pensions also help stimulate state economic growth. The National Institute on Retirement Security (NIRS) reports that Connecticut public retirees, who receive an average yearly benefit of $38,235, have a total economic impact of $7.3 billion annually in the state. This yearly benefit is far below the Economic Policy Institute’s cost of living estimation of $47,433 for Fairfield County, the state’s most populous area.
Connecticut is no exception to the shrinking workforce. By March 2022, almost 1,000 state employees had filed for retirement, and 2,140 notified the state of their intentions to retire by July 1, 2022. State Comptroller Natalie Braswell’s office predicts that up to one-quarter of the workforce, 12,000 employees, will be eligible for retirement by the end of the year. The state is going to need any and all tools available to attract quality candidates to fill these roles.
As we have noted before, defined-benefit pensions are one of the most effective tools for the retention and recruitment of employees. State lawmakers can serve each and every resident by continuing to provide a secure, defined-benefit retirement to public employees, thereby ensuring that vital, day-to-day public services will remain reliable now and in the future.