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Data Shows NPO Employment Regained Pre-Covid Levels
Data Shows NPO Employment Regained Pre-Covid Levels

The nonprofit sector has recovered the estimated 1.64 million jobs lost during the first three months of the Covid-19 pandemic (March, April and May 2020). After the initial dips, the sector experienced steady recovery throughout the latter half of 2020 and 2021, reaching 2017 staffing levels in October 2022.

By January 2022, the sector had gained back around 1.24 million jobs, leaving a 400,000-job shortfall from a 2017 baseline, the most recent year for which statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics were available. In 2017, the sector employed nearly 12.5 million people, a majority in health care services (6.78 million or 54.3% of the total nonprofit workforce), educational services (2 million, or 16.1%) and social assistance fields (1.53 million, or 12.2%).

As of October 2022, total employment exceeded the 2017 baseline by more than 16,000 jobs. By December 2022 the sector had surpassed the 2017 baseline by more than 107,000 jobs, according to Nonprofit Employment Estimated to Have Recovered from COVID Pandemic-Related Losses as of December 2022, a study from the George Mason University Nonprofit Employment Data Project.

This is the first report issued by the George Mason University Nonprofit Employment Data Project, which took over the work from Johns Hopkins University after the August 2021 death of Lester Salamon, Ph.D., the university’s director of the now closed Center for Civil Society Studies.

The jobs recovery has not been distributed evenly across nonprofit verticals. Overall, the sector’s employment levels stand at 6.5% higher than the 2017 baseline. But nonprofit health care service staffing levels lead the pack, with levels 15.4% greater than 2017, closely followed by social assistance employment levels (14.6% more) and educational services (14.3% more).

Where there are leaders there must also be laggers, and arts, entertainment and recreation nonprofits have only recovered 88.2% of 2017 staffing levels — that is, they are 11.8 percentage points below that level — and religious, grantmaking, civic and professional nonprofits continue to be hit hard, having reached only 31.3% of the staffing levels they reported in 2017.

The report authors did not speculate why certain subgroups within the nonprofit sector continue to experience staffing shortfalls. But a June 2022 article from MinistryWatch noted religious organizations were experiencing longer job vacancies, with digital marketing and IT positions proving especially hard to fill. Additionally, faith-based organizations in smaller markets were experiencing greater talent gaps than those in more robustly populated locations.

Even within a given sector, employment recovery varied by type of service. Within health care, nonprofits offering ambulatory health care services had staff levels 5.3% greater than their 2017 levels as of December 2022, while hospitals had experienced a minimal uptick and nursing and residential care facilities were still reporting a 9-percentage-point shortfall.

Looking at raw numbers, by the end of 2022 health care services employed 84,000 more individuals than in 2017, education al services employed more than 46,000 people and social assistance nonprofits employed nearly 38,000 more. But the employment census for arts, entertainment and recreation nonprofits was off by more than 29,000 people and religious, grantmaking, civic and professional nonprofits saw an employment census of nearly 103,000 fewer people.

The researchers at George Mason University based their 2022 estimates on assumptions that nonprofit employment trends kept pace with private economy figures. But, as the report authors noted, that may be “an assumption that may or may not bear out given other research showing that nonprofits have faced unique challenges in attracting workers in a highly competitive employment market.”

The report authors further cautioned that “[o]ther factors may be in play as well — both positive and negative — including the significant history of resiliency demonstrated by nonprofits in previous economic downturns, increased demand for services, and the unique constraints nonprofits face in terms of wage adjustments, access to capital, and other fiscal pressures, including the need to keep overhead low to conform to funder requirements and grant restrictions.”

Additional information, including the full report, is available here: https://nonprofitcenter.schar.gmu.edu/2023/01/11/gmu-ned-project-nonprofit-employment-recovers-from-covid-pandemic/