Editor’s note: This story has been updated to clarify a proposal to reduce academy training for corrections officers.
Roughly 13% of all state government jobs in Illinois are vacant, with significant holes in public safety and health care posts.
Dealing with a dearth of job candidates, Illinois also saw a near 2% drop among its workforce ranks from 2020 to 2022.
Andy Manar, Illinois’ deputy governor for budget and economy, said roughly 8,000 state government positions in a variety of fields now are open.
“We’re not unlike any other employer in terms of the challenges we face attracting potential workers and to retain the talent we currently have in the workforce,” Manar said. “We’re having to do creative things we haven’t done before to address the problem.”
The Illinois comptroller’s office also reports the state had 1,092 fewer full-time employees in fiscal year 2022 than in 2020.
A declining workforce is something most states have been dealing with since the pandemic, records show. The National Conference of State Legislatures has said the labor shortage is the most pressing issue facing state governments this year.
A Daily Herald analysis of full-time state government employee figures in each of the 50 states during 2020 and 2021 shows 37 states had fewer workers in 2021. Illinois’ state government workforce dropped 0.4% in that time.
Notably, several states that reported higher staffing levels after 2021 show a decline in 2022. For example, Nebraska had 0.2% more state workers in 2021 than in 2020, but at the end of its 2022 fiscal year, the state reported 4% fewer state government employees. National data for 2022 isn’t yet available as only about a dozen states have completed audits for the year.
Experts say the issue for states is likely to continue as long as labor shortages exist elsewhere.
“A hot private-sector job market is not good for the public sector,” said Chris Goodman, associate professor of public administration at Northern Illinois University. “It’s hard for public-sector employers to compete with private-sector employers because a lot of the public-sector jobs are highly unionized, so it’s hard to increase salary demands with those regulations.”
Goodman said the benefits of government work in this economy aren’t as attractive as they once were, either, driving many workers to private industry.
“For a long time, state and local governments have relied on paying very good benefits and maybe not paying as much upfront,” he said. “Now, as things get more expensive, folks want cash upfront.”
Meanwhile, tax revenue earmarked for personnel costs — generally the largest expense line item on any government’s budget — hasn’t declined.
Manar said it was unfair to equate the decline in personnel costs with a decline in need for revenue. He noted the state had made extra pension payments, which saved taxpayers millions of dollars in interest that would have accrued otherwise. Additional revenue was added to the state’s rainy day fund, as well.
“We’ve used that revenue for very targeted priorities,” he said.
Some of the biggest areas of need in Illinois for state workers are in the public protection and justice sector, which includes Illinois State Police and the Illinois Department of Corrections. There were more than 1,000 fewer state workers in that sector in 2022 than in 2020, a 5.5% drop.
State police officials said the labor shortage isn’t affecting just sworn officers but all aspects of the agency’s personnel.
“ISP has undertaken an extensive social media recruitment campaign to expand its reach to more diverse populations across the state,” said spokeswoman Melaney Arnold. “ISP also created a fast-track program within the division of forensic services to help onboard DNA forensic scientists without compromising excellence.”
At IDOC, former corrections officers are being asked back if they left less than 18 months ago in good standing, and the state is looking to reduce academy training time from eight weeks to three for certified officers.
IDOC lost more than 340 corrections officers in 2022, records show.
A national study on local and state government labor issues conducted by the Mission Square Research Institute late last year showed 83% of the 319 public employers surveyed noted nursing and health care positions were the hardest to fill.
Manar said Illinois is no different. In August, the state enacted a series of initiatives aimed at filling health care roles overseen by the state.
He noted legislation has been introduced to address state government hiring challenges “in a world that doesn’t exist anymore.”
Despite staffing challenges, the state remains the largest employer in Illinois, accounting for more than 1% of all workers, public and private, statewide, records show.