Report Shows State, Local Government Employees Left in Record Numbers in 2021

State and local employees left their jobs at record highs in 2021, according to a new Wisconsin Policy Forum report.

The study of Wisconsin Retirement System data found 17,646 left the pension system in 2021 for reasons other than retirement, death or disability. At the end of 2021, there were 257,683 active WRS members. That marked the second consecutive year of decline with a net decrease of 0.6 percent from the 259,234 active members at the end of 2019.

The WRS system data include employees ranging from teachers, police officers, prison guards and university employees, to local governments, school districts and state agencies.

The report states increased WRS retirements are partly due to the state’s aging workforce and potentially to challenges brought by the COVID-19 pandemic. The data show 17,646 people left WRS in 2021 for “other separations,” meaning they took another job or became unemployed for other reasons.

The study also found membership in WRS has gotten younger and less experienced, with an average age of 44.6 years old, the youngest average age since 2003. The average employee also had 11.1 years of experience, the lowest amount since 2001.

WPF in the report recommends public officials consider increasing pay and more flexible working conditions, as well as using more new technology and exploring “service sharing arrangements between neighboring governments” and using private contractors.

“Given the state’s aging and shrinking workforce, both the public and private sectors in Wisconsin will continue to face labor challenges,” the report states. “Yet, the importance of positions like police officers, paramedics, and teachers may require a particularly thoughtful and urgent public sector response.”