Commonwealth Magazine

MASSACHUSETTS STATE GOVERNMENT lost the equivalent of 1,409 full-time employees in a year during the pandemic, the largest drop in state government employment since the Baker administration intentionally downsized the state’s workforce in 2016.

The decline was felt most strongly in higher education, but also extended to executive and judicial branch agencies. State officials say there hasn’t been a major concerted effort to reduce the state’s workforce, but there has been a mix of attrition, unwillingness to hire and inability to hire, similar to what happens in the private sector.

“There have been a lot of retirements, like in a lot of other industries,” said Vincent Pedone, executive director of the Council of Presidents of State Universities, which represents public universities other than UMass. “There is the problem of the difficulty in finding people capable of filling positions. Many positions that I know of are available and campuses want to fill them, but they are unable to find the talent ready to accept these positions.

The 2021 exercise of the State controller Annual Report, published last week, examined the period between June 30, 2020 and June 30, 2021. During this period, the number of full-time employees working for the state fell from 86,583 to 85,174, a decrease 1.6%. This figure represents the smallest workforce in the state of Massachusetts since 2012.

The only other time in the past decade when the state government cut its payroll by 1.6% or more was from 2015 to 2016, when the Baker administration offered a retirement incentive executive agencies to reduce the size of government and save money, and employment fell by 1.8%.

The state executive branch’s COVID vaccine mandate, which has forced over 1,000 unemployed people in state government, has not been a factor in these numbers since it came into effect in October 2021.

According to the comptroller’s report, the biggest decline occurred at the University of Massachusetts, which lost 483 full-time employees. UMass spokesman John Hoey said the decline was likely related to the pandemic, as most university housing and dining services have closed for an extended period. Staff numbers did not increase again until September 2021, when operations returned to normal.

At UMass’ flagship campus, UMass Amherst, spokesman Ed Blaguszewski said the cuts were primarily to staff, not faculty, and came after the university urged people to leave in the part of a budget reduction strategy. “Many positions will be reconfigured or refilled, but it will be slow as we face the same challenges finding talent as most sectors of the economy,” Blaguszewski said.

Other public higher education institutions were also among those that lost large numbers of employees – 205 at community colleges and 192 at state universities. One of the reasons for these higher numbers is that public higher education comprises a large part of the public workforce, with around 25,000 employees.

Pedone said state universities have not had significant layoffs during the pandemic. But the “big resignation” had an impact as people chose to retire. Uncertainty about the future at the start of the pandemic meant that universities were not quick to fill many of these openings. And now many job seekers are looking for higher salaries than universities can pay.

Pedone also said the university system is looking to “adjust” its workforce as college enrollment declines across the Northeast due to changing demographics.

Sarah Yunits, deputy executive director of the Massachusetts Association of Community Colleges, said the drop in community college staff is likely tied to a drop in courses taught by adjuncts, which is tied to a drop in enrollment that community colleges in Massachusetts — and of the country – have recently experimented.

“We believe this is related, in part, to the pandemic,” Yunits said. “In addition to the general challenges of the pandemic, we know that COVID has had a disproportionate impact on students of color and low-income students who attend community colleges in greater numbers.”

The two executive branch agencies that saw the most job losses were the Executive Office of Health and Human Services (232 full-time equivalents) and the Executive Office of Public Safety (106 FTEs).

The judiciary also topped the list, with the loss of 156 full-time equivalent positions, or about 2.2% of its 7,200 workforce.

Health and Human Services is the largest executive branch agency, with more than 20,000 employees. Agency officials note that tpersonal services and direct care FThe fields have been hit hard by employment challenges more broadly, so it is no surprise that there has been attrition among those working in these fields for the state government. This spring, Baker signed a supplementary budget that included $400 million in rate improvements for social service providers to help recruit and retain staff.

The public safety agency says the job loss is about 1% of its total workforce, and the agency continues to prioritize recruitment and retention.

Meet the author

Journalist, Commonwealth

On Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter for CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for over seven years at Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, issues with the state’s foster care system and the elections for US senators. Elizabeth Warren and Governor Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association’s Excellence in Legal Journalism Award in 2018 and several articles have won awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered New Hampshire’s 2012 presidential primary for The Boston Globe. Prior to that, she worked for the Concord (NH) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall, and Barack Obama’s 2008 primary campaign in New Hampshire. Shira holds a master’s degree from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.

On Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter for CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for over seven years at Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, issues with the state’s foster care system and the elections for US senators. Elizabeth Warren and Governor Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association’s Excellence in Legal Journalism Award in 2018 and several articles have won awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered New Hampshire’s 2012 presidential primary for The Boston Globe. Prior to that, she worked for the Concord (NH) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall, and Barack Obama’s 2008 primary campaign in New Hampshire. Shira holds a master’s degree from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.

Jennifer Donahue, Spokesperson For the trial court, said that, like other agencies, the judiciary slowed its recruitment during the early stages of the pandemic, due to uncertainty about the fiscal impact of the pandemic on the statewide and the difficulties encountered in the operation of the courts.

A separate report put through the crazy justice systemn/a that there were more employees who left the courts in 2021 compared toD in each of the previous two years – 478 Ddepartures compare to around 415 per year in 2019 aD 2020. There were also fewer hires, with 493 people hired in 2019, 410 in 2020 and just 324 in 2021.

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