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By the Numbers: The Government Technology Workforce

Using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Government Technology took a look at the way the workforce has changed over the past 10 years and since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Over the past decade the state and local government tech workforce has grown, with salaries rising as well — but pay still lags the private sector, putting a strain on hiring managers as the cost of living continues to increase, based on a Government Technology analysis of national and state-level data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The government tech industry has, by several metrics, had a decade of plenty. Staffing levels overall have increased by 8.7 percent alongside the growth of the tech industry, with government workers representing about 3.6 percent of the tech industry in 2021, the most recent year for which data is available.

In the past 24 months, the winds may have started to shift, with the first decrease in the number of government tech employees the industry has seen since 2014.
“What we have seen is that the workforce is getting smaller in the CIO’s office,” said Meredith Ward, director of policy and research at the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO).

Ward attributed this largely to state consolidation, a trend among states in the past decade wherein IT functions for the state and sometimes local governments are concentrated in one department.

She added that there are increases in some segments of government IT departments, such as cybersecurity.
The growth of the industry is also not homogeneous across the nation nor steady over time. Some states have seen steady growth, like Nevada and its government tech workforce that has grown by 26 percent since 2012. Other states have seen their workforces shrink. Iowa, which had just under 1,200 government IT workers in 2012, saw its workforce fall 29 percent between 2012 and 2021.

As the size of the labor market increased, so did the salaries of its workers.

Tech workers in state governments, such as support techs, database administrators or information security analysts, have seen a steady 20.6 percent increase in salaries between 2012 and 2021.
But with recent spikes in inflation, government tech workers’ real wages have actually decreased, despite nominally going up. Adjusting for inflation, the average tech worker in state and local government is making less than they were six years ago.

This may be exacerbating an ongoing issue facing government hiring managers: competition from the private sector.
“If you ask anyone in recruiting and retention, they’ll say the No. 1 issue is salary,” said Ward.

Average salaries in the private sector for computer scientists and technologists are higher in almost every state in the country. In 2021, private-sector salaries hit six figures for the first time, reaching an average of $101,370 per year. In state and local government, salaries are 80 percent of that at $81,805.

Salaries within the industry also vary widely. A user support specialist in West Virginia can expect to make around $38,000 a year while a database architect in California could be making closer to $143,000 annually.

While overall spending on salaries across local and state governments has increased by more than $9.8 billion since 2012, the types of staff being hired have changed.
The two largest shifts in the industry have come from the growth of user support and information security staff. In 2012, user support staff made up 14.5 percent of the government tech sector. In 2021, just under one in four, 23.6 percent, of government tech employees worked in user support.

The increase in user support represents an increase in the lowest paid position in the industry, though some higher paying positions are also increasing in their popularity and necessity in government IT departments.

Information security, a much smaller segment of the industry at 2.3 percent of the workforce in 2021, has seen an explosion in growth, increasing by 87.6 percent in the past 10 years.

The question of who is filling these roles is also top of mind for many industry leaders.

“In the past two years, (diversity, equity and inclusion) has become an ‘ignore at your own peril’ issue,” said Ward.

In a NASCIO survey of state CIOs released in April, 60 percent said they had a “diverse IT workforce” in their office, with another 93 percent saying they had an “inclusive workplace.”

The most recent report on the subject of diversity in high tech from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission used data collected in 2014 and found that white people were overrepresented in the tech industry at large, with Black and Hispanic workers underrepresented when compared to the private sector as a whole.
Andrew Adams is a data reporter for Government Technology. He holds a bachelor’s degree in communication from the Illinois Institute of Technology and a master’s degree in public affairs reporting from the University of Illinois Springfield.