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Despite Fiscal Infusion, Missouri Gov Still Has 7,500 Vacancies

The number of vacant, state government positions has increased by more than 700 jobs in the last year, despite a 5.5 percent salary increase for all state workers that was approved by the Legislature and governor last year.

(TNS) — Missouri continues to hemorrhage state workers despite an infusion of tax dollars aimed at addressing turnover and unfilled positions.

According to figures provided by Gov. Mike Parson's Office of Administration, there were 7,512 vacant positions within state government as of July 15.

At the same point last year, before lawmakers and the governor approved a 5.5 percent pay boost for state employees, there were 6,793 vacancies out of nearly 54,000 full-time jobs that were funded in the state budget.

The unexpected surge in unfilled positions comes as other employment sectors are reporting surprising growth.

In July, U.S. employers added a robust 528,000 jobs despite warning signs of an impending economic downturn.

The nation's unemployment rate dropped another notch, from 3.6 percent to 3.5 percent, matching a more than 50-year low reached just before the pandemic took hold.

The unemployment rate in Missouri in June was 2.8 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

But the state-level raises, as well as a commitment to pay all state employees at least $15 an hour, have not yielded the desired result more than five months after the money was inserted into the state budget.

At the Missouri Department of Corrections, there are more than 2,300 vacant positions, resulting in the need to transfer prisoners to other facilities that are adequately staffed.

At the Department of Social Services, there are more than 1,000 open positions. The agency is under fire for significant waiting times for low-income people who apply for Medicaid health insurance benefits.

The Missouri Department of Natural Resources also is feeling the pinch, with 103 open slots.

DNR spokeswoman Connie Patterson said there are openings for engineers, environmental program analysts and assistants, and administrative support positions.

Patterson said the agency's human resources division is assisting with recruiting eligible candidates.

"The Department of Natural Resources is working to fill its vacancies by implementing a more comprehensive recruitment plan," Patterson said.

The Missouri Attorney General's office is budgeted to have 436 employees, but had only 323 as of July 15, according to the Office of Administration.

A spokesman for Republican Attorney General Eric Schmitt, who is running for the U.S. Senate, dismissed questions about having more than 100 unfilled positions.

"We take very seriously our duty to run the best law firm in the state and attract the best and the brightest, all while protecting taxpayer money," said Chris Nuelle. "When the Class of 2022 attorneys start shortly, the office will be nearly fully staffed, and this is consistent with the office's long-running philosophy of providing more competitive compensation to attorneys and staff, maximizing our budgeted dollars to attract and retain talent."

The pay issue has been a top concern for Parson since he took office in 2018.

A November 2021 survey of state employees found that only 14 percent felt the state provided attractive incentives to "high performing employees."

"'Underpaid' was teammates' second most frequently used word to describe the State of Missouri government," the survey noted.

In January, the Republican governor called on lawmakers to invest more in state employees, who have been consistently ranked among the lowest paid among their peers in the nation.

In Callaway County, home to a prison, mental hospital and other state facilities, Parson's budget chief Dan Haug said the state has been struggling to compete for workers with a nearby Dollar General warehouse.

The Republican-controlled General Assembly complied in February, allowing the higher wages to begin being paid out in March.

The increases were met with applause from the directors of various state agencies.

In a July presentation to Parson's cabinet, at least three agencies said the pay raises were a top accomplishment of the governor's tenure.

Briefing documents show the Department of Public Safety was particularly pleased.

"The most positive change is having a governor who came through for state employees. The pay raises this year has done more for morale than he could ever know. It's not just the money, it's the support as well," the Cabinet document said.

Nonetheless, the Office of Administration says Public Safety has 320 fewer full-time employees than it is approved for under the current budget.

(c)2022 the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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