NYC lost 19K municipal jobs during the pandemic. Despite decade-high hiring, gaps and vacancies remain in critical agencies.

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The NYC Department of Corrections agency saw a 23% dip in its workforce during the pandemic.
RABANSER/SHUTTERSTOCK

A decline of 19,000-plus employees in NYC’s workforce and various unfilled vacancies is rivaling the city’s murkiest staffing levels since the 2008 recession, as a revolving door of social workers, public safety officials and lawyers have yet to be filled.

In a report published Monday by state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, turnover at city agencies is outpacing hiring, and most at risk for disrupted services are the city’s social services and education programs — at a time where affordability and child care services are an issue for residents.

“The question is not whether these numbers are good or bad, it’s about how it’s affecting city services and residents,” Rahul Jain, the state’s deputy comptroller, told the Bronx Times. “There’s a lot of anecdotal information and data about service being interrupted or delayed in agencies where turnover has been high. Right now we can’t concretely determine … to what degree these services are being affected and where they are most being affected.”

While the city has hired more than 40,000 new employees within the last fiscal year — the highest hiring push in 10 years — city job vacancies stood at more than 21,000 this August. What also was a record high was separations from service — city workers retiring or voluntarily leaving — which rose by 77% during the pandemic.

The city saw a 6.4% reduction in the workforce during the pandemic across its 37 largest agencies, with 11 agencies seeing a decline in staffing of more than 13%. For context, NYC saw a 4.7% staffing decline between fiscal years 2008 through 2012, during and after the Great Recession.

“The pandemic caused a significant decline to the city’s workforce, and it is particularly troubling that turnover continues to outpace hiring,” DiNapoli said. “Without the hardworking individuals who keep this city running, critical and essential services for our children and most vulnerable residents could be impacted. Budget gaps loom, and while the city needs to find efficiencies, it also must prioritize a clear understanding of staffing challenges at its agencies and be transparent about their potential impact on services.”

The city’s current financial plan looks to hire 24,969 positions by fiscal year 2023. Last month, more than half of the city’s major agencies had external job postings for at least 20% of their openings, while other major agencies did not show significant efforts to hire as of October 2022.

The comptroller’s report shows many city departments have yet to even reach their current staffing targets, due to elevated attrition over the past two years.

The city’s Department of Corrections (a 23.6% drop in employment), the Department of Investigations (22.2%), and the long-fledgling Taxi & Limousine Commission at (20.5%) saw the starkest decline among city agencies from June 2020 to August 2022, according to the report.

Other agencies hit hard include the NYPD (6.7%), Department of Social Services (13.7%) and Administration for Children’s Services (15.6%), which accounted for more than half of the citywide workforce decline in that span.

“The numbers are pretty jarring. There’s a mix of public safety, inspector and legal service and other high-demand services that have some important gaps they need to fill to make residents feel safe and protected,” said Jain. “We want agencies to say where performance is sliding that way there’s an efficient way to increase production in agencies where staffing is an issue.”

While staff reduction at some agencies, like the Department of Corrections, were planned, DiNapoli’s report states that the “the pace was greater than anticipated.”

A portion of the drop in the workforce was also due to non-compliance with the city’s vaccination mandates. Last October, 3,739 educators were placed on leave — which was equivalent to 75% of the yearly citywide average number of employees placed on leave from 2012-2020 — and most did not meet the city’s vaccination requirements, according to the comptroller.

More than 1,750 city workers were fired for refusing to get vaccinated, including 36 members of the NYPD and more than 950 Department of Education employees.

New York City sanitation workers who were fired for not getting vaccinated against COVID-19 were ordered to be reinstated and given back pay, a state judge last month.

NYC dropped its COVID-19 vaccine requirement for employees in the private sector on Nov. 1. State Supreme Court Justice Ralph Porzio, in his ruling, cited the mayor’s lifting of the vaccine mandate for some employees, such as the city’s athletes and entertainers, as evidence that the public worker mandate was “arbitrary and unreasonable.”

DiNapoli warns that high vacancy rates in the city’s social programs — Social Services, Education, Parks and Recreation, Homeless Services and Mental Health and Hygiene — could be disrupted unless more efficient means of providing those services are identified.

Some former city employees, who felt discast by the city during the pandemic, told the Bronx Times that the city undervalues their workers, and often leaves them needing to “perform miracles” under very little support.

“I’ve been approached to have my job back, but to be honest, it’s not enticing,” Monique Graves, a social worker who was laid off in 2021. “There’s a lot of crises happening in the city, with very little support or investment in tireless, run-ragged city workers, and I haven’t seen a trend in that changing.”

DiNapoli’s report notes vacancy rates are mostly driven by the city’s temporary reduction in hiring during the pandemic, as well as a sharp rise in layoffs which followed.

In September, NYC Mayor Eric Adams directed his agency heads to identify ways to achieve new savings of 3% of city-funded spending in FY 2023, followed by savings of 4.75% beginning in FY 2024.

Reach Robbie Sequeira at [email protected] or (718) 260-4599. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes

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