Published: May 25, 2023

High Rates of Turnover Also Dramatically Affecting Delivery of Services

The State of Oregon’s workforce crisis has reached a critical point, with the state’s inability to recruit and retain workers creating serious vacancies throughout state government, dramatically affecting the quality of public services Oregonians expect and deserve, according to a research document published by SEIU 503 today. Additionally, low staffing at some agencies – including those that provide round-the-clock services, such as Oregon Youth Authority – have turnover rates as high as 28%.

The paper, titled The Oregon State Workforce Crisis,” highlights the severity of the problem: with nearly 9,000 vacancies across state agencies, important projects are put on hold, state offices open to the public are forced to implement restricted hours and Oregonians who need to access services face longer wait times.
Some state agencies are operating on such low staffing levels that employees are taking on higher workloads and mandatory overtime, further exacerbating the problem by prompting workers to burn out and leave the state sooner. This is contributing to the State of Oregon’s high rates of turnover and churn. Vacancy rates for the state overall as of April 2023 were at 19%, while some positions had vacancy rates as high as 70%.

The Oregon State Hospital was forced to rely on multiple National Guard Deployments to meet basic needs in the last year. Limited DMV hours have resulted in hours-long waits for basic services across the state. These high-stress jobs are burdened with additional workloads, making it more difficult to fill vacancies and retain workers due to the state’s staffing crisis.

A major factor causing the state’s workforce crisis is the state’s failure to offer competitive wages, particularly for agencies with 25% vacancy rates and 25% annual turnover rates, including the Department of Human Services, Oregon Youth Authority, Department of Corrections, and Department of Transportation. The impacts of these worker shortages are felt by all Oregonians, statewide.

Lower salaries directly contribute to the state’s inability to attract workers; the state reported 6,049 failed recruitments in 2022, meaning the position openings didn’t draw enough qualified applicants or the jobs were offered to candidates who declined them. Just four months into 2023, the state was on track to repeat that trend, with 2,100 failed searches thus far.

“Until we get the investment we need for state workers, state government will continue to bleed staff,” said SEIU 503 Executive Director Melissa Unger. “These are critically important jobs – state workers keep our roads safe, protect children and provide so many other services that Oregonians need. The clock is ticking, and this cannot go on – we need the legislature to step up and deal with this issue in the state budget now to make sure employee salaries are competitive enough to keep people on the job.”

The white paper can be found here.