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State of the Labor Market

As the Government Shutdown Drags On, Many Government Workers Look Elsewhere

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As the longest US government shutdown in history drags on, federal workers are increasingly seeking new opportunities, according to job search data by Indeed.

With the government shutdown lasting more than a month, how are federal government workers responding? By increasingly looking for new jobs. Using Indeed’s job search data, we analyzed how workers from several government agencies are searching for new positions.

We found that workers at unfunded agencies (who are more likely to be seeing delays in paychecks) are increasingly seeking new work. There is also the beginning of a pick-up in job search at funded agencies, although usually not as dramatically—and sometimes the pick-up in search may be related to non-shutdown events as well. Overall, the analysis suggests that Federal worker frustration is starting to boil over even to workers not directly affected by the shutdown.

What’s happening at some unfunded agencies?

We took a look at four unfunded agencies—the TSA, Department of Homeland Security, the IRS, and the Census Bureau. All four are seeing clicks on new jobs by their current employees elevated above where they usually are at this time of year. This activity has accelerated as the shutdown has continued. (Throughout this post, a black line denotes the date of the shutdown)

Line graph titled “TSA workers increasingly looking for new work.” With a vertical axis ranging from 0 to 180, Indeed tracked the share of clicks by TSA workers along a horizontal axis ranging from December 1 to January 19 with lines representing 2016/2017, 2017/2018, and 2018/2019. Share of clicks increased to over 140 from December 29, 2018, through to January 19, 2019, compared with 100 in previous years. Caption added post-publication.
Line graph titled “DHS workers increasingly looking for new work.” With a vertical axis ranging from 0 to 180, Indeed tracked the share of clicks by DHS workers along a horizontal axis ranging from December 1 to January 19 with lines representing 2016/2017, 2017/2018, and 2018/2019. Share of clicks increased to over 140 from December 29, 2018, through to January 19, 2019, compared with 100 in previous years. Caption added post-publication.
Line graph titled “Census workers increasingly looking for new work.” With a vertical axis ranging from 0 to 180, Indeed tracked the share of clicks by Census workers along a horizontal axis ranging from December 1 to January 19 with lines representing 2016/2017, 2017/2018, and 2018/2019. Share of clicks increased from December 22, 2018, through to January 19, 2019, compared with a decrease during the same period in previous years. Caption added post-publication.
Line graph titled “IRS workers increasingly looking for new work.” With a vertical axis ranging from 0 to 180, Indeed tracked the share of clicks by IRS workers along a horizontal axis ranging from December 1 to January 19 with lines representing 2016/2017, 2017/2018, and 2018/2019. Share of clicks increased to nearly 160 from December 29, 2018, through to January 19, 2019, compared decrease to 80 during the same period in previous years. Caption added post-publication.
Line graph titled “Federal workers increasingly looking for new work.” With a vertical axis ranging from 0 to 180, Indeed tracked the share of clicks by TSA, DHS, Census, and IRS workers along a horizontal axis ranging from December 1 to January 19 with lines representing 2016/2017, 2017/2018, and 2018/2019. Share of clicks increased to over 140 from December 29, 2018, through to January 19, 2019, compared with a decrease to under 100 in previous years. Caption added post-publication.

What’s happening at funded agencies?

Workers at the Department of Education, the Social Security Administration, and the Department of Labor held on for awhile, but some seem to have started to see job search creeping up. The numbers are smaller than at the unfunded agencies, and so it will be interesting to see if this pattern increases in the days to come, or if job search activity at these agencies returns to normal.

Line graph titled “Education Department workers search largely in line, but may be picking up.” With a vertical axis ranging from 0 to 180, Indeed tracked the share of clicks by Education Department workers along a horizontal axis ranging from December 1 to January 19 with lines representing 2016/2017, 2017/2018, and 2018/2019. Share of clicks in 2019 was in line with previous years. Caption added post-publication.
Line graph titled “SSA workers search largely in line, but may be picking up.” With a vertical axis ranging from 0 to 180, Indeed tracked the share of clicks by SSA workers along a horizontal axis ranging from December 1 to January 19 with lines representing 2016/2017, 2017/2018, and 2018/2019. Share of clicks in 2019 was in line with previous years. Caption added post-publication.
Line graph titled “DOL workers search largely in line, but now above previous years.” With a vertical axis ranging from 0 to 180, Indeed tracked the share of clicks by DOL workers along a horizontal axis ranging from December 1 to January 19 with lines representing 2016/2017, 2017/2018, and 2018/2019. Share of clicks in 2019 was slightly above the share of clicks in previous years. Caption added post-publication.

The Department of Defense is not furloughed—but it has seen an increase in job search activity. The recent pick-up seems to have accelerated strongly around December 19th/20th, continued to grow through the beginning of January, and then remained at a high level. It is unclear how much of the acceleration was due to personnel changes at the Department of Defense (such as the resignation of former Secretary Mattis) and how much was a reaction to the shutdown.

Line graph titled “DoD workers started looking for new work before shutdown.” With a vertical axis ranging from 0 to 180, Indeed tracked the share of clicks by DoD workers along a horizontal axis ranging from December 1 to January 19 with lines representing 2016/2017, 2017/2018, and 2018/2019. Share of clicks in 2019 was nearly 160, 60 above share in previous years. Caption added post-publication.

What happens next?

At some point, the government shutdown will end. Perhaps the Senate will pass legislation the House and the President can agree on later this week, or maybe the shutdown will continue. In the long run, the question is: will the Federal government see an outflow of talent to the private sector, and will it be able to recover once the shutdown ends?

Methodology

We looked at the clicks on job postings on Indeed coming from workers at each of these agencies, where workers were identified by accounts of job seekers who had a resume uploaded to Indeed who indicated that the agency was their most recent employer. We then took the share of clicks by these employees as compared to clicks overall on Indeed job postings, used a 30 day moving average to smooth volatility, and normalized December 1st as 100. Note that Census, DOL, DoD, and Ed have smaller sample sizes than other agencies, and so their data may be more volatile.