State Employees

None of the services we have described would be possible without state employees to provide them. These employees perform a wide range of work, from social workers to corrections officers, epidemiologists to accountants.

In FY 2019 the state nearly 66,000 employees, roughly half in higher education and the remainder in other agencies. The chart below shows the six largest agencies by number of employees. The state’s two flagship universities are the two largest employers, with the departments of Human Services and Corrections the largest governmental agencies.

Since 2009 higher education employment is unchanged, while state agency employment is 13 percent lower than it was 10 years ago. The departments of Health, Human Services and Mental Health have 29, 27 and 22 percent fewer employees in that period, respectively.

State employees are compensated well below market rates. Each year the Office of Management and Enterprise Services OMES) compares employee pay rates to rates to perform similar work for other employers. In 2019 the average state employee salary was 17 percent below market, compared to 13 percent below in 2009. Considering both salary and benefits, total compensation was also 17 percent below the market in 2019.

Unless they are promoted or granted a merit pay raise, state employees only receive a pay raise when approved and funded by the Legislature. In the last ten years, just three pay raises have been approved. Employees in certain jobs received 6.25 to 8.00 percent increases in 2014 and fixed dollar raises in 2018 and 2019 that totaled $1,350 to $3,500 per year depending on the employee’s salary.

State employee benefits are competitive but not overly generous. For decades low salaries were justified for public employees by the fact that health, time off, and retirement benefits often exceeded the private markets. While that may have been true in the past, it is not today. OMES’ 2019 analysis shows that the state’s payment for health insurance is 7 percent higher than the market, but the state’s share of retirement is 35 percent below that paid by surrounding states. The value of paid holidays is 15 percent below the market.

Perhaps in part due to compensation that is not keeping up with the market, the state is experiencing higher employee turnover. In 2019, 17 percent of employees left voluntarily, compared to 13 percent in 2009. OMES calculated that turnover cost the state $127 million in 2019.

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