What Effect is the Great Resignation Having on Local Government? 

People around the United States are leaving their jobs at unprecedented rates, with roughly four million Americans resigning per month. Researchers point to shifting life priorities and demands for more flexible work as possible drivers to this nationwide phenomenon economists are calling the “Great Resignation.”

To understand how this new era of hiring is affecting the local government workforce, CivicPulse surveyed over eight hundred local government department heads across thirteen departments. We asked them, “In general, how easy or difficult is it fill an open position now than before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic?”

Overall, 59% of respondents indicated hiring had become more difficult, while only 1% of respondents indicated that it had become easier. While the unemployment rate is continuing to decline, many local governments are still announcing staffing challenges. The departments experiencing the greatest setbacks in hiring were water service and management, parks and recreation, and citizen communication and engagement (see Figure 1).

Fig 1: Percent of Respondents Who Reported Increased Hiring Difficulty Since the Pandemic

Local governments face particular difficulties in attracting and retaining workers who wish to continue the remote work experience they may have had during the pandemic. 82% of local government department heads responded that their staff were NOT working remotely, and 53% of those who said their staff were working remotely said this would only be a temporary situation.

There are many reasons that local governments might be less likely to offer remote-friendly jobs. Most importantly, many local government jobs involve in-person service delivery, like water safety or law enforcement. But more generally, local governments are just that—local. The idea of staffing a local government with a permanently remote workforce spread across the country may not only be impractical, but also would compromise the general concept of what local government is: a discreet geographic community governing itself.

That said, local government decision-makers may feel increasingly compelled to consider expanding remote work opportunities where possible if their hiring challenges continue. Where remote work is not an option—for in-person service delivery jobs, for example—local governments may find themselves needing to increase their wages to compete in the rapidly evolving, increasingly geographically distributed labor market.

Survey Background:

CivicPulse conducted a random sample survey of 814 local government officials in the United States. The sample frame was created using Power Almanac’s continuously updated contact list of government officials from counties, municipalities, and townships with populations of 1,000 or more. The survey included top appointed officials, heads of HR, and the top official from eleven other departments in local governments. Survey respondents were invited to take the survey via email. Data was collected between September 17, 2021, and October 18, 2021.

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