When we launched our salary survey 10 years ago, unemployment was 4.7% and the public job market was thriving. Although 2005-06 survey respondents had complaints that remain relevant today (“Working for the government doesn’t earn me the respect or money I deserve.”), they had few concerns about their workloads or benefits.
This year’s dynamics are much different.
After watching joblessness surge to 10% during the Great Recession, we’re rejoicing over today’s relatively low 5.7% unemployment rate. The private sector is (supposedly) well on its way to recovery, and government employees are finally getting raises. Municipalities are hiring.
But for many public works departments, these are just baby steps in an excruciatingly slow recovery process.
Since 2008, salary and job cuts made deep into the bone of the nation’s workforce have necessitated a grueling “do more with less” climate. Compensation has been reconfigured so employers pay less for benefits while employees pay more. Government employees are still dealing with the ramifications of decreased property and income tax revenues and both legislative and public outcries for less public spending.
Those of you in the trenches have, for the better part of six years, experienced furloughs and salary freezes. You’re digging deeper into your pockets to pay for health care while the cost of living increases. Through comments made in this year’s survey, you’ve made one thing clear: A 1% to 3% pay raise (what 58% of survey-takers received) is simply not enough.
That said, our analysis of this year’s results confirm what professional organizations and media outlets have been saying: The public sector is in recovery mode; and, while slim, the proof is in your paycheck (if not your personal finances).
Please don’t shoot the messenger.
Next page: Raises back; jobs on the way
Raises back; jobs on the way
First, let’s talk jobs. City and state budgets are showing slow but steady growth as the public sector finally moves past the recession (see “Inching to recovery” on page 30 of our January 2015 issue), and this is reflected in the availability of public jobs. Although the government workforce is nowhere near its pre-recession size — and may never be — for the first time since 2008, more cities are hiring rather than laying off employees, the National League of Cities says.
A May 2014 Center for State & Local Government Excellence survey of 300 public sector human resource managers found that, although 60% have a smaller workforce than in 2008, more than half hired more people in 2013 than in 2012. Although 14% had enacted hiring freezes and furloughs, almost 40% reported broad-based pay increases for current employees and 16% reported position-specific pay increases.
How does your salary compare?