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Report: NY Counties Hard Hit By Worker Shortage


The United States is currently grappling with a significant worker shortage that spans across industries, presenting challenges for all employers, impacting economic productivity service. Nowhere is this more apparent than in New York’s local governments, according to a report released last Thursday by New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli. Hardest hit by this workforce shortage are county governments, which saw the steepest loss of employees since 2007.

“Counties experienced the greatest decline at 17.1 percent, followed by cities and villages (8.7 percent) and towns (7.8 percent),” according to the Comptroller’s report, Local Government Workforce Trends in New York State.

“We appreciate Comptroller DiNapoli bringing these workforce challenges into focus. It has been years in the making, and it needs more attention. For all of our governments to serve residents effectively and efficiently, we need qualified and dedicated public employees. While the county’s commitment to serving the public, remains unwavering, there are significant obstacles in workforce retention and recruitment for public service,” said Stephen Acquario, executive director of the New York State Association of Counties (NYSAC).

For county executives, administrators, and department heads, these obstacles and the statistics outlined in the Comptroller’s report are not new. Depending on the size of their county, they are trying to fill dozens or hundreds of job openings in their counties, across the full array of departments.

“It is no surprise and not shocking to see that the levels of employment across county government in the time noted have decreased by 17%,” said Livingston County Administrator Ian Coyle, who has initiated a number of recruitment initiatives in his county, and also helps colleagues from across the state find qualified applicants for key positions. “County government is full of essential workers, and we have many positions in this sector that have been impacted greatly by the recent turn of events, including Covid, remote work, changing workplace norms, and growing competition from the private sector.”

In particular, it has been challenging for counties to recruit for positions like civilian dispatchers or 911 telecommunicators, social services caseworkers, laborers, and highway equipment operators. Even entry-level, public safety, and other administrative positions have experienced major recruitment and retention obstacles, to the point where governments are competing for each other’s existing workers, offering hirer pay and bonuses.

In response, many counties across the state have taken a multitude of actions in response to this new reality. These include wage studies that have led to increased hourly rates and salaries, expanded or enhanced benefits, reductions in health insurance contributions, career development programs, training and professional development programs, and creative recruitment efforts.

“County leaders have been working hard to address these challenges. We know that a robust and dedicated public sector workforce is fundamental to good public service and for the well-being of our communities,” said Albany County Executive Dan McCoy, president of NYSAC. “As we all navigate this ongoing issue, we are dedicated to finding good workers and fostering a resilient public sector workforce. New Yorkers deserve nothing less. Together, we can and must build a future where our commitment to public service is matched by a thriving and empowered workforce, ensuring the best possible quality of life in our communities.”

“As a public sector employer, county governments have a distinguishing feature—a separator—in the form of public service motivation,” said Administrator Coyle. “When you work for a county government, you work for your neighbors, friends, and family. Local government employees are part of a mission and work culture that is founded in altruism and the building of community. And nowhere in the United States do you find the diversity, scope, and breadth of government service provision than in New York’s county governments. From elections to probation to legal fields to social services to public health and public works and beyond, a New Yorker can find a fulfilling career in a county government.”

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